Cobra-level response demanded as ministers meet over lorry driver shortage

·4-min read
A petrol station in Sheffield which is closed (Danny Lawson/PA) (PA Wire)
A petrol station in Sheffield which is closed (Danny Lawson/PA) (PA Wire)

A high-level meeting to discuss supply issues currently hitting the UK has been held after retailers warned the Government that it has just 10 days to save Christmas from “significant disruption” due to the HGV driver shortage.

The Cabinet Office, the Department for Transport (DfT) and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) took part in the summit to discuss possible solutions to the shortage of HGV drivers.

But no new measures had been announced on Friday evening over how the Government intends to ease pressure on a number of industries.

The CBI called for ministers to establish a task force on the same pegging as the Cobra emergency committee to deal with the problems.

Unless a solution can be found in the next 10 days, it is inevitable that we will see significant disruption in the run-up to Christmas

Andrew Opie, British Retail Consortium

It comes amid warnings that disruption to festive preparations will be “inevitable” if progress is not made to solve the shortfall of around 90,000 lorry drivers.

Esso, BP and Tesco petrol forecourts have been impacted by challenges getting petrol deliveries.

BP said that around 20 of its 1,200 petrol forecourts were closed due to a lack of available fuel, with between 50 and 100 sites affected by the loss of at least one grade of fuel.

A “small number” of Tesco refilling stations have also been impacted, said Esso owner ExxonMobil which runs the sites.

And on Friday the EG Group, which has 341 petrol stations in the UK, said it was imposing a £30 limit on customers “due to the current unprecedented customer demand for fuel”.

Around one in six adults in Britain said they were not able to buy essential food items at some point during the past two weeks due to products not being available, according to a survey by the Office for National Statistics.

The Transport Secretary has tried to dissuade drivers from panic buying petrol, although there have been chaotic scenes at petrol stations across the country.

Grant Shapps said on Friday that motorists should “carry on as normal”.

“The advice would be to carry on as normal, and that is what BP is saying as well,” he told Sky News.

On Friday morning, queues started to form outside some filling stations in the UK.

Photos from Maidenhead and Leeds showed cars trying to reach the pumps.

Andrew Opie, director of food and sustainability at the British Retail Consortium, said: “HGV drivers are the glue which hold our supply chains together.

“Without them, we are unable to move goods from farms to warehouses to shops.

“Currently, the UK faces a shortfall of around 90,000 HGV drivers and it is consumers who ultimately suffer the consequences.

“Unless a solution can be found in the next 10 days, it is inevitable that we will see significant disruption in the run-up to Christmas.”

On the BBC’s Today programme, Mr Shapps promised he would do what is needed to ensure that petrol gets to drivers.

Queues at a Sainsbury’s Petrol Station in Colton, Leeds, on Friday morning (Danny Lawson/PA) (PA Wire)
Queues at a Sainsbury’s Petrol Station in Colton, Leeds, on Friday morning (Danny Lawson/PA) (PA Wire)

“I’ll move heaven and earth to do anything that’s required to make sure that lorries carry on moving our goods and services and petrol around the country,” he said.

But the CBI called for a Cobra-level response from the Government to deal with the issue.

Tony Danker, CBI director-general, said: “After speaking with hundreds of business leaders this week, it’s clear there’s a total mindset shift from growing to coping. This is now a major threat to our recovery and the Government needs to step up its response to a new level of both speed and boldness.

“While many of these challenges are global in nature, the solutions we need are local.”

He added: “Government is right to keep up the pressure on companies to adapt and not rely on immigration long term, but temporary visas are the only way to alleviate the disruption of shortages in critical skilled parts of the economy in weeks and months instead of years.

“Getting skills programmes right immediately is key to ensuring that these measures are only needed temporarily.

“On energy, it’s imperative the Government provides a facility to enable well-capitalised suppliers to absorb new customers, and energy intensive companies, which underpin critical UK supply chains, are well supported throughout the winter.

“Establishing a crisis management task force to move quickly – with both business and Government around the table – will ensure Government is far more informed about the nature and scale of the challenges; can formulate responses fast; and is able to get the support of the Prime Minister and the Cabinet to take action required. We stand ready to support the Government to do this.”

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting