Emergency workers prioritised for fuel at supermarkets as panic buying continues

·4-min read
Closed petrol pumps at a petrol station in Manchester - AP
Closed petrol pumps at a petrol station in Manchester - AP

Supermarkets have begun prioritising emergency workers for fuel and turning away members of the public amid continued panic buying across the country.

Staff at the Tesco station in Clevedon, north Somerset, only allowed police, fire, NHS and other emergency service workers to fill up their vehicles on Tuesday morning as fuel stocks ran low.

It came as the Government faced calls to give healthcare staff and other critical workers priority access to fuel supplies.

Motorists arriving at the Tesco station forecourt in Clevedon were told they could not fill up until a new delivery of diesel and petrol arrived and were asked to wait in the superstore car park next door.

However, emergency service staff were allowed onto the forecourt, where three aisles of petrol and diesel pumps had been blocked to the public.

Just before 11am on Tuesday morning, a solitary Highways Agency vehicle was filling up with fuel as other motorists waited patiently nearby in the drizzle.

A female worker at the station told The Telegraph: “We’ve only been allowing police, fire and NHS workers to fill up this morning. We were running low on supplies but held some back especially for emergency workers.

“A tanker has just arrived with some more fuel, so we will soon be able to help everyone. It’s a pain, but most people have been pretty understanding.”

One of those waiting to fill up was Chris Parsons, a 34-year-old carpenter from Bristol. He said: “It’s very frustrating because I have been here for an hour and I’ve got a job to go to. But I think it is only fair that they are prioritising the police and NHS when supplies are low.”

Later the cones were removed from the forecourt and a large queue of vehicles formed around the station as motorists were allowed to the pumps again.

A source at Tesco said the supermarket giant had no “general policy” to prioritise key workers but added that managers were free to use their individual “judgment”.

Morrisons petrol station in Newquay, Cornwall, also began prioritising fuel for ambulance workers and police, according to reports.

It came as ministers consider an emergency plan to give critical workers exclusive access to certain petrol stations to ease the fuel crisis.

In Scarborough, North Yorkshire, police officers were forced to patrol on their bicycles after they were unable to refuel their car.

“So couldn’t refuel the police vehicle tonight! Couldn’t therefore conduct rural patrols,” North Yorkshire Police wrote on Twitter, alongside a picture of a police bicycle. “Are you a responsible motorist? Did you really need to brim your tank?”

One ambulance driver in north London told the BBC he visited several filling stations in his search for fuel.

“I had zero tank, I was on my reserve, the light was on, it was getting chaotic, my heart rate was going through the sky,” he says, after finally buying fuel in Brent Cross.

Dr David Wrigley, the deputy chairman of the British Medical Association, warned that essential services could be hit if staff were unable to get to work because they could not fill up.

“I know many of my health and social care colleagues will be getting into the car this morning, nervously looking at the fuel dial and wondering if they’ve got enough fuel to do their day-to-day work,” he told Times Radio.

“We can’t be waiting two or three hours in a queue for fuel when we have patients to see. It’s a critical situation where we’re unsure we’ll have the fuel to do NHS and social care work, so a plan does need to be in place.”

However, a headteachers’ union said prioritising key workers for fuel was not a sensible solution as it could cause “more chaos” on the forecourts.

Paul Whiteman, the general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said: “The last thing children need is further disruption to education given the experience of the last 18 months.

“Prioritising key workers is not a sensible solution as it would be impossible to enforce and could cause more chaos on the forecourts. The only real answer is for the Government to do everything in its power to get fuel to pumps and bring this situation to an end.”

He added that, so far, the school leaders’ union is not hearing that fuel supply issues are causing major problems for schools.

“But if shortages go on much longer it is possible that children and teachers could find themselves unable to get to school - there could be problems with transport for special schools in particular,” Mr Whiteman added.

A Tesco spokesman said: “We have good availability of fuel, and we’re working really hard to ensure regular deliveries to our petrol filling stations across the UK every day. The petrol station at our Clevedon Superstore in Somerset is currently open for all customers and trading as normal.”

A Morrisons spokesperson apologised “for any inconvenience caused”, adding: “It is a rapidly moving situation and we are working hard with our suppliers to ensure we can continue to keep our pumps open and serve our customers.”

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