UK prepares soldiers to help ease gas shortages at pumps


The UK government put dozens of troops on hold Monday to help tackle fuel supply problems caused by a shortage of truck drivers, a situation that has sparked panic in gasoline purchases across the country.

As unions demanded that first aid workers be given priority for fueling, the government said it was putting British Army tanker drivers in “a state of readiness to be deployed if necessary to deliver the fuel where it is needed most “.

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said Britain had “significant fuel supplies”.

“However, we are aware of the supply chain issues on gas station forecourts and are taking action to alleviate them as a priority,” he said.

Long lines of vehicles have formed at many service stations across Britain since Friday, causing traffic jams on busy roads. Spirits collapsed as some drivers waited for hours.

The Petrol Retailers Association, which represents nearly 5,500 independent outlets, said on Sunday that about two-thirds of its members were running out of fuel, as the shortage of truck drivers sparked rounds of panic buying. ‘gasoline.

The Conservative government insisted on attributing the problems to consumer behavior.

“The only reason we don’t have gasoline on the forecourt is because people are buying gasoline that they don’t need,” Environment Secretary George Eustice said.

Major oil companies, including BP, Shell and Esso, said in a joint statement that they expected demand for gas “to return to normal levels in the coming days.”

“We would encourage people to buy fuel as they usually do,” the statement said.

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But critics urged the government to circulate the fuel so that the shortage does not have damaging ripple effects on healthcare, police operations and other crucial sectors.

Dr Chaand Nagpaul of the British Medical Association said healthcare workers and other essential service personnel should have “priority access to fuel so that they can continue their crucial work and ensure patient care” .

Christina McAnea, general secretary of the Unison union, urged the government to use its emergency powers to designate gas stations for key workers.

“Paramedics, nurses, caregivers, teaching assistants, police and other key workers should not be left stranded or forced to stand in line for hours just to get to a pump,” he said. she declared.

Road transport industry says UK is short of 100,000 truckers, due to perfect factor storm including coronavirus pandemic, aging workforce and exodus of foreign workers after departure of Great Britain from the European Union last year. Post-Brexit immigration rules mean EU citizens can no longer live and work visa-free in Britain, as they could when the UK was a member of the bloc.

Several other countries, including the United States and Germany, are also experiencing a shortage of truck drivers, but the problem has been particularly visible in Britain, where it has helped empty supermarket shelves and shut down pumps. gasoline.

Roland McKibbin, an electrician in London, said he had to cancel jobs because he couldn’t get gasoline.

“The lack of fuel means I can’t drive, which means I can’t get to work with my tools,” he said. “So basically panic buying idiots lost my income and directly took food off the table for my wife and 5 year old son, because I can’t wire people’s homes. from home. “

In an effort to alleviate the gas shortage, the government has said it is temporarily suspending competition laws so fuel companies can share information and target areas with low supplies.

It also enlists military examiners to help clear a backlog of new truckers awaiting testing. And, after weeks of mounting pressure on shortages, Britain’s Conservative government announced on Saturday it would issue 5,000 emergency visas to foreign truck drivers to help prevent a Christmas without turkeys and toys for many British families.

But that’s well below the number needed, and critics have also said the 3-month visas are too short to attract European truck drivers.

Ruby McGregor-Smith, president of the Confederation of British Industry, said visas were “the equivalent of throwing a dice of water on a bonfire”.

Radu Dinescu, secretary general of the National Union of Road Transporters of Romania, said Romanian drivers – who worked in large numbers in the UK before Brexit – “now prefer the stability of the EU”. Romania is a member of the EU, and Dinescu said its drivers can earn high salaries by working in France or Germany.

“The UK seems to be living a paradox – UK citizens don’t want to work as a truck driver, while at the same time they don’t want other non-UK citizens to come and do this work,” he said. he told The Associated Press. .

Olaf Scholz, leader of Germany’s Social Democrats, the party that won the country’s election on Sunday, has also linked UK worker shortages to Brexit.

“Free movement of workers is part of the European Union, and we have worked very hard to convince the British not to leave the Union,” he said. “Now they’ve decided differently, and hopefully they’ll handle the issues that come with it.”

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