Why is the UK experiencing a fuel shortage? It’s got nothing to do with petrol and everything to do with trucks
It’s something most Australians are familiar with — you drive up to the servo, fill up, roll your eyes at the price, pay anyway and drive off.
You rarely have to think about where the petrol you rely on comes from.
But the UK is in the midst of a run on petrol stations that has left bowsers running dry and thousands of motorists frustrated.
But it’s not petrol that Britain is lacking, instead, it’s a shortage of truck drivers that has led to the crisis.
Why is the UK experiencing a fuel shortage?
British media is full of images showing long queues and even occasional brawls outside service stations as the country runs low on petrol.
As Australia saw with toilet paper last year, a perceived shortage can lead to panic buying, which appears to be happening as concerned motorists make sure their tank’s topped up.
That’s what the UK government has blamed for the crisis.
“The only reason we don’t have petrol on the forecourts is that people are buying petrol they don’t need,” Environment Secretary George Eustice said.
But the increased demand has caused a squeeze on immediate supply, which has been exacerbated by the fact that the UK has long had a shortage of Heavy Goods Vehicle (HGV) drivers.
There just aren’t enough people to drive the trucks that distribute fuel across Britain.
According to the Petrol Retailers Association, which represents about 60 per cent of the UK’s fuel sellers, between 50 and 90 per cent of pumps ran dry in some areas.
It’s got to the point that the government is considering using the army to deliver petrol to stations.
OK, so then why is there a truck driver shortage? Could it affect things other than petrol?
Yeah, it could and it is.
While petrol is the most notable example, other goods including supermarket staples have also faced shortages.
Economist Jonathan Portes told ABC Radio National that there were a number of factors that had left the UK short on drivers.
“There’s a bunch of things all going on at the same time. First of all, there has been a longstanding shortage of HGV drivers not just in the UK but in Europe as a whole,” he said.
“Tax changes made it less attractive to be an HGV driver, and then there’s Brexit.
“Most of our drivers before Brexit were from elsewhere in Europe and a lot of them went home in the pandemic and … partly because of Brexit, have chosen not to come back.”
The testing and licensing process that allows new people to begin driving heavy trucks had also been slowed down by the pandemic, he said.
All of that has added up to a shortage that the UK’s Road Haulage Association estimates is in the realm of 100,000 drivers.
What happens next?
The British government has announced the military is on standby to step in to help with the situation.
It’s also previously made plans to issue temporary visas to 5,000 foreign truck drivers, suspend competition laws and entice former drivers back into the industry.
However, the government also said it expected the extra demand caused by panic buying to taper off and return to a normal level.
Major fuel firms BP, Shell and Esso have also said they anticipate demand for fuel to reduce in coming days.
But the underlying issue of a lack of permanent truck drivers remains in Britain, which could spell further issues as the busy Christmas season approaches in the months ahead.
Extracted from ABC