The UK’s petrol retailers have called for an independent inquiry into the fuel crisis to ensure it does not happen again, saying the shortages are not easing quickly enough.
A lack of lorry drivers and panic-buying over the past fortnight left many pumps dry, and the problems are continuing mainly in London and south-east England.
The Petrol Retailers Association, which represents independent forecourts, said 12% of filling stations in London and the south-east were still dry and 17% had just one grade of fuel. It said 71% of forecourts in the region had both grades, compared with 90% elsewhere.
The industry group said the shortage was proving harder to tackle in London and the south-east because there are typically more vehicles per station in the region due to the density of the population.
“The recovery is simply not happening quickly enough,” said Brian Madderson, the PRA’s chairman. “We are into our 15th day of the crisis. There needs to be an independent inquiry into the crisis so that motorists are protected from such acute fuel shortages in the future.”
He said forecourts in the capital and the south-east were reporting “chaotic delivery schedules”, citing one case of a tanker having to return to the depot full because it had arrived at a filling station that had just been stocked.
Madderson said the government’s decision to suspend competition law had been “a failed experiment”. The move allowed oil companies to share data to target deliveries to the areas hit hardest by the fuel shortage, but he said the PRA had not been involved in the information sharing.
Meetings are understood to have taken place between the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and specialist hauliers and oil companies.
“It is now time for the government to step back, reimpose competition law and restore market disciplines so that ordinary business incentives drive the fuel to the filling stations which need it,” he said. “The lesson for us all may be that, however well-intentioned the government is, regrettably officials do not have the ability nor the capacity to command and control a crisis such as this.”
The PRA’s executive director, Gordon Balmer, when asked how quickly the situation would be resolved, replied: “One would hope days.”
Petrol station stocks were already lower than normal before the panic-buying left many forecourts dry, figures from BEIS show. Average stock levels dropped to 33% for several days up to 22 September, down from the more normal level of 40-45%. Stocks dipped to 32% on the 23rd when reports that BP was preparing to ration fuel deliveries due to driver shortages hit the media.
On the 24th when queues began, stock levels shrank to 20%, and they slumped again to just 15% on the 25th when panic-buying gripped the UK.