Brits line up for gas as BP closes some service stations
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Brits line up for gas as BP closes some service stations

British drivers are being urged not to panic buy gasoline after a shortage of truck drivers forced BP to temporarily close some of its UK service stations.

The Automobile Association (AA) appealed for calm on Friday as drivers in some parts of the United Kingdom flocked to gas stations.

“There is no shortage of fuel and thousands of [stations] are operating normally with just a few suffering temporary supply chain problems,” AA President Edmund King told CNN Business. He warned drivers against filling up “outside their normal routines” as “even if the occasional petrol station is temporarily closed, others just down the road will be open.”

Yet some Brits paid little heed as the weekend approached, with Shell warning of long lines at stations.

“We are seeing an increased demand today for fuel at some of our stations, which may in some instances result in larger queues. We are adapting our delivery schedules to ensure sufficient supplies for our customers,” Shell said in a statement.

Worker shortages are a growing problem in Britain, which had a record 1 million job vacancies between June and August, according to the Office for National Statistics. The shortage of truck drivers has been exacerbated by the pandemic and Brexit, which resulted in tens of thousands of EU nationals leaving their trucking jobs in the United Kingdom.

BP said in a statement on Thursday that it was “experiencing some fuel supply issues at some of our retail sites in the UK and unfortunately have therefore seen a handful of sites temporarily close due to a lack of both unleaded and diesel grades.”

The company blamed “industry-wide driver shortages across the [United Kingdom]” for the supply chain crunch. “We are prioritizing deliveries to motorway service areas, major trunk roads and sites with largest demand and seeking to minimize the duration of stock outs,” it added.

BP declined to comment on how many gas stations would be affected, but a person familiar with the situation said that “tens” of sites were experiencing fuel shortages.

This is the second time in as many months that BP has had to temporarily shutter some UK locations because of problems distributing fuel due to a lack of truck drivers. According to the Road Haulage Association, the United Kingdom is short around 100,000 truck drivers, 20,000 of whom were EU nationals that left the country after Brexit.

Esso owner ExxonMobil said Friday that a “small number” of the 200 fuel stations it operates with supermarket chain Tesco have also been affected. “We are working closely with all parties in our distribution network to optimize supplies and minimize any inconvenience to customers,” the company added in a statement.

The UK government has announced some measures to increase the number of driving tests for truck drivers. But a spokesperson for the government said last month that “most of the solutions” will be driven by industry.

“We want to see employers make long term investments in the UK domestic workforce instead of relying on labor from abroad and our Plan for Jobs is helping people across the country retrain, build new skills and get back into work,” the spokesperson said.

However, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps did not rule out issuing short-term visas to EU drivers on Friday.

“I’ll look at everything and we’ll move heaven and earth to do whatever we can to make sure that shortages are alleviated with HGV [Heavy Goods Vehicle] drivers,” he told Sky News in an interview.

It’s not just truck drivers. The food and farming sector estimates that there are 500,000 vacancies across the industry, which is leading to food waste because there are insufficient workers to pick, pack, process and transport fresh produce.

Groups representing the food and farming sector on Wednesday called on Prime Minister Boris Johnson to implement a “Covid Recovery Visa” to alleviate what they described as “crippling labor shortages across the supply chain.”

— Charles Riley and Lauren Gunn contributed reporting.

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