Energy bill crisis: Britons urged 'don't panic buy' as fears mount of 'winter of discontent'

File photo dated 19/03/2020 of empty shelves at a Sainsburys. The boss of the Food and Drink Federation has said that the days when UK consumers could expect to pick up nearly whatever product they want whenever they want from supermarket shelves are over. Ian Wright, the body's chief executive, said that a shortage of lorry drivers is in part due to them moving to online retailers and starting to deliver for Amazon and Tesco. Issue date: Friday September 10, 2021.
Small business minister Paul Scully told Times Radio there was no need for panic buying. (PA Images)

The minister for small business has told the British public not to panic buy and insisted the UK is not facing a "winter of discontent".

Soaring gas prices have sent shockwaves through the energy industry as well as strained supply chains that were already creaking due a shortage of labour and the fallout from Brexit.

After gas prices triggered a CO2 shortage, Britain was forced to extend emergency state support to avert a shortage of poultry and meat.

Speaking to Times Radio about soaring gas prices, HGV driver shortages, and supply issues, minister Paul Scully rejected the notion of a return to a "winter of discontent" – a reference to 1978-79 when inflation and industrial action left the economy in chaos.

"Look, this isn’t a 1970s thing at all. I don’t recognise that," he said. “There is no need for people to go out and panic buy."

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Supermarket bosses have already warned of a panic-buying crisis in the run-up to Christmas following empty shelves appearing across the country due to HGV driver shortages.

Tesco, the UK's largest supermarket, said panic buying could be "far worse" than during the first lockdown.

“Our concern is that the pictures of empty shelves will get 10 times worse by Christmas and then we’ll get panic-buying," said Tesco's UK distribution and fulfilment director, Andrew Woolfenden at a Cabinet Office meeting last week.

Watch: Tesco warns food shortages will lead to Christmas if crisis isn't resovled

An HGV lorry on the M4 motorway near Datchet, Berkshire. The Government has announced a temporary extension to lorry drivers' hours from Monday July 12th, amid a shortage of workers. Picture date: Thursday July 8, 2021.
Tescos are struggling to hire HGV drivers amid shortages despite £1,000 incentive. (PA Images)

He also called on the government to make it easier to hire workers from abroad.

Tesco is currently struggling to recruit new drivers, despite offering a £1,000 bonus to new hires.

According the Road Haulage Association, there is a shortage of up to 100,000 HGV drivers in the UK which is feeding into missing food and drink items on shelves up and down the country.

And, in a double whammy, steep rises in gas prices forced the closure of the UK's two largest fertiliser plants which produce carbon dioxide, further threatening meat, poultry, and fizzy drink supplies.

Empty shelves in the meat and chicken aisles of an Asda store in London. PA Photo. Picture date: Saturday March 14, 2020. Photo credit should read: Yui Mok/PA Wire (Photo by Yui Mok/PA Images via Getty Images)
The British Meat Processing Association chief warned British meat could disappear from shelves within weeks. (PA Images)

The chief executive of the British Meat Processing Association earlier this week warned British meat could disappear from shelves within five to 15 days if a solution was not found.

In response to the escalating energy crisis, the government have agreed to pay tens of millions to the US company CF Industries to reopen a carbon dioxide plant in the UK.

The rise in natural gas prices has led to six energy suppliers already going out of business this month, leaving nearly 1.5 million customers facing a rise in bills.

Despite this, business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng has "categorically" ruled out grants or subsidies to larger energy firms.

On the gas and HGV driver crisis, Boris Johnson told Sky News during his Washington trip this week that he was not concerned about supply chains.

"I think we've got very good supply chains, as I've been saying over the last few days - and what we're seeing is the growing pains of a global economy recovering rapidly from COVID."

Watch: Labour: 'UK has least energy efficient homes in Europe'