The “frenzy” of panic buying by motorists during the UK fuel crisis that has drained a majority of the country’s 8,000 petrol stations is showing early signs of dissipating, government and industry figures said on Tuesday.
Brian Madderson, chair of the Petrol Retailers Association, a trade body, said that while the situation was still very difficult, with garages running dry within hours of securing new supplies, his members saw signs of improvement.
“Panic buying is continuing, it certainly hasn’t disappeared, but it’s at a slightly less frenzied rate,” Madderson told the Financial Times.
The PRA, which represents about two-thirds of British service stations, said 37 per cent of its members’ forecourts were out of fuel on Tuesday morning. That compared to an estimated 50 to 90 per cent on Sunday and Monday.
“We’re hopeful some sort of equilibrium between supply and demand might be reached by the weekend,” said Madderson.
The government has been under increasing pressure to get a grip on the crisis, which began with limited disruption to fuel deliveries to petrol stations due to a shortage of heavy goods vehicle drivers. It was followed by panic buying by motorists that drained supplies at the weekend.
Ministers have repeatedly said there is no shortage of fuel at refineries or storage depots, but they have put the army on standby to help with deliveries to garages if necessary.
The government has also loosened visa requirements for foreign HGV drivers and suspended aspects of competition law to let fuel suppliers co-operate and share data.
Boris Johnson said on Tuesday that the crisis was “stabilising”, adding the government was working to strengthen supply chains ahead of the winter.
“What we want to do is make sure that we have all the preparations necessary to get through until Christmas and beyond, not just in supplying the petrol stations but all parts of our supply chain,” said the prime minister.
Sir Keir Starmer, leader of the Labour party, blamed the crisis on Johnson’s mishandling of the situation.
“The government has reduced the country to chaos as we crash from crisis to crisis,” he told the BBC, describing the government’s solution of additional temporary visas as a “half-baked plan”.
Starmer said businesses had told him “it’s a government that is denying there’s a problem, then blaming somebody else”.
Dan Myers, UK and Ireland managing director at XPO Logistics, one of the country’s three large bulk liquid distributors, said demand for fuel was still up 50 per cent on Monday compared to normal, but down from as much as a 400 per cent jump over the weekend.
He added that the number of petrol stations running dry out of the hundreds that it supplies had halved in the past 24 hours.
“It is going to take a little while for stocks to get back to normal,” said Myers.
There are concerns the fuel shortages still pose significant disruption to public services and industry.
Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, which represents healthcare organisations across the country, said fuel shortages had “the potential to affect the delivery of vital services to some of our most vulnerable people in society” as medical workers and care staff struggle to find fuel for their cars.
The British Medical Association and trade unions have called on the government to give key workers priority access to petrol stations.
Sectors, including couriers and taxi drivers, have expressed concern about whether they will be able to refill once their vehicles run out of fuel.
Industry executives have warned that data on the scale of the problem is at best patchy, with no centralised system to monitor the amount of fuel on garage forecourts.
“We’re chasing our tail a little as stations might get refilled but are drained again within hours, so the data we have can soon be out of date,” said one executive.
Additional reporting by Daniel Thomas in London