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Boris Johnson sends a million morale-boosting letters to HGV drivers as he calls for pay rises

Boris Johnson has called on HGV bosses to give drivers a pay rise as the Prime Minister prepares to send them one million morale-boosting letters in the run-up to Christmas.

Ministers are said to be urging up to 40,000 retired hauliers to return to action in a last-gasp bid to save Christmas, as retailers warned the Government it has less than two weeks to prepare for the festive season.

Meanwhile, Boris Johnson is to personally sign off on a million morale-boosting letters urging drivers who turned away from the industry to get back on Britain’s roads. 

The move comes amid a nationwide panic-buying spree at petrol stations and growing fear inside Downing Street that supermarket shelves could remain barren until December 25.

The scenes of queues outside petrol stations – which for some will stir up memories of the 1973 Opec Oil Crisis and the 2000 fuel shortage – come amid fears of a 1978-style ‘winter of discontent’ for the UK, with skyrocketing energy prices, food shortages and fuel rationing. 

And in a further boost, more than 10,000 temporary foreign visas will be fast-tracked by the Government as ministers rush to solve the supply chain crisis that’s threatening Christmas

Boris Johnson is to personally sign off on a million morale-boosting letters urging drivers who turned away from the industry to get back on Britain’s roads and ease the supply chain crisis

Ministers are said to be urging up to 40,000 retired hauliers to return to action in a last-gasp bid to save Christmas, as retailers warned the Government it has less than two weeks to prepare for the festive season

Ministers are said to be urging up to 40,000 retired hauliers to return to action in a last-gasp bid to save Christmas, as retailers warned the Government it has less than two weeks to prepare for the festive season

More than 10,000 temporary foreign visas for HGV drivers and poultry workers will be fast-tracked by the Government as ministers rush to solve the supply chain crisis

More than 10,000 temporary foreign visas for HGV drivers and poultry workers will be fast-tracked by the Government as ministers rush to solve the supply chain crisis

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the changes, with the visas available from next month, would ‘ensure preparations remain on track’ for the festive season.

He echoed calls for drivers to be fairly compensated and added: ‘We are acting now, but the industries must also play their part with working conditions continuing to improve and the deserved salary increases continuing to be maintained in order for companies to retain new drivers.

‘I know how important this Christmas is for all of us and that’s why we’re taking these steps at the earliest opportunity to ensure preparations remain on track.’

Retailers had warned the Government that it had just 10 days to save the festive period from ‘significant disruption’ due to a shortfall of about 90,000 drivers in the freight sector. 

It comes as thousands of desperate drivers ignored Government pleas for calm as they jammed roads – with fears mounting over the impact of lasting fuel shortages on the economy. 

The Petrol Retailers Association had told drivers to ‘keep a quarter of a tank’ of fuel in their vehicles in preparation for potential closures of local petrol stations.

5,000 HGV drivers and 5,500 poultry workers will be given extraordinary three-month visas allowing them to work in the UK until Christmas Eve

5,000 HGV drivers and 5,500 poultry workers will be given extraordinary three-month visas allowing them to work in the UK until Christmas Eve

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps (above) said the changes, with the visas available from next month, would 'ensure preparations remain on track' for the festive season

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps (above) said the changes, with the visas available from next month, would ‘ensure preparations remain on track’ for the festive season

A Shell garage employee holds a sign on the side of the road informing traffic that they do not have unleaded petrol

A Shell garage employee holds a sign on the side of the road informing traffic that they do not have unleaded petrol

Some had multiple jerry cans in the boot of their cars and spent time filling each up while others queued for hours to reach the pump. Pictured: Customers queuing in their cars to access an Asda petrol station in east London on Saturday

Some had multiple jerry cans in the boot of their cars and spent time filling each up while others queued for hours to reach the pump. Pictured: Customers queuing in their cars to access an Asda petrol station in east London on Saturday

Furious motorists were seen fighting on Saturday as the nationwide rush for fuel continued amid calls for calm from the Government because less than 100 petrol stations were empty.

Shocking footage showed panic buyers punch and kick at each other during a violent brawl at an Esso petrol forecourt in Sidlesham, Chichester, as roads were left gridlocked and police had to be called in to marshal drivers.

Two men were seen grappling before throwing punches at one another, while another enraged motorist launched a flying kick at another man as the scramble for fuel turned violent in the sleepy West Sussex village.

The shortage of HGV drivers has long threatened to wreak havoc this winter, and it has been exacerbated by a huge backlog in HGV tests due to Covid, as well as foreign drivers returning home amid the pandemic and Brexit. 

A motorist lays out a half dozen fuel containers on the floor of the forecourt in Upminster to fill her boot with fuel while desperate drivers queue for hours behind

A motorist lays out a half dozen fuel containers on the floor of the forecourt in Upminster to fill her boot with fuel while desperate drivers queue for hours behind

The problems were triggered after BP and Esso admitted on Thursday that a lack of tanker drivers was hitting deliveries (pictured, gridlock at a petrol station in Tonbridge)

The problems were triggered after BP and Esso admitted on Thursday that a lack of tanker drivers was hitting deliveries (pictured, gridlock at a petrol station in Tonbridge)

HGV boss is accused of triggering petrol pump crisis: Ministers point the finger at ex-BBC man and diehard Remainer who ‘leaked remarks made by a BP executive at a private Government meeting’ 

A former BBC boss opposed to Brexit has been accused of triggering the petrol pump crisis.

Ministers say Rod McKenzie sparked the nationwide panic-buying frenzy by selectively leaking remarks made by a BP executive at a private Government meeting. 

Senior sources suggested he ‘weaponised’ the comments to deflect blame for the UK’s supply chaos.

Mr McKenzie, who ran BBC Radio 1’s Newsbeat for more than two decades before joining the Road Haulage Association, last night denied the claim.

Ministers say Rod McKenzie (pictured above) sparked the nationwide panic-buying frenzy by selectively leaking remarks made by a BP executive at a private Government meeting

Ministers say Rod McKenzie (pictured above) sparked the nationwide panic-buying frenzy by selectively leaking remarks made by a BP executive at a private Government meeting

As managing director of policy for the RHA, he has blamed post-Brexit immigration restrictions for the crisis in the industry and has been leading calls for the Government to lift visa restrictions to allow more foreign drivers into the country.

The fuel crisis began to snowball last week after comments made by Hanna Hofer, head of BP’s retail business, at a Cabinet Office meeting were leaked.

On September 16, Ms Hofer told civil servants, hauliers and other industry figures that the company had ‘two-thirds of normal forecourt stock levels’.

According to a senior Government source, however, she also said the situation had been ‘going on for weeks’ and that very few forecourts had had to close. 

Crucially, those additional comments – which Government insiders believe would have prevented or at least reduced the panic-buying of fuel – were not made public.

Mr McKenzie said he did not take part in the meeting and firmly denied that there was any direct evidence that he or anyone at the RHA leaked the selective remarks.

But a senior Government source said: ‘McKenzie will have been aware of Ms Hofer’s comments and had every incentive to weaponise them. The RHA leak every meeting they have with us. They have a rap sheet as long as their arm.

‘McKenzie is just a moaning Remainer and he and the RHA are entirely responsible for this panic and chaos. We will deal with them when this is over.’

BP denied that any of its staff were behind the leak, with a spokeswoman saying it ‘would have been completely counter-productive’.

BP, Esso, Texaco and Shell last night introduced a £30 limit on fuel purchases after motorists were seen on forecourts filling multiple jerry cans.

Meanwhile, the Government announced up to 4,000 people will be trained as HGV drivers. 

Ministry of Defence examiners will be drafted in to increase capacity for those wanting to sit HGV tests, and almost a million letters will be sent to people who currently hold an HGV licence encouraging them to return to the industry.

The Department for Education is also investing up to £10 million to create new ‘boot camps’ to train 3,000 more HGV drivers at short, intensive and free courses

Industry groups the Food and Drink Federation and Logistics UK both welcomed the visa changes, with federation chief Ian Wright calling the measures ‘pragmatic’.

But British Chamber of Commerce president Baroness McGregor-Smith said the changes were the ‘equivalent of throwing a thimble of water on a bonfire’, and that  the 5,000 new visas may be too little, too late to halt the chaos.    

The announcement about immigration rules being relaxed to ease supply pressures comes amid scenes of lengthy queues at petrol stations after a shortage of specialised tanker drivers forced some fuel retailers to shut their pumps and ration sales.

As well as the short-term measure of opening up to foreign workers, the Ministry of Defence is also stepping in to provide examiners to help clear a backlog of drivers desperately trying to get their licences. 

Officials said the loan of MoD examiners to work alongside Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) employees would help put on ‘thousands of extra tests’ over the next 12 weeks.

Meanwhile, nearly one million letters will be landing in the coming days on the doormats of people with HGV licences to encourage those who have left the industry to return.

The letter will set out the steps the haulage sector is taking to improve industry conditions, including increased wages, flexible working and fixed hours, according to the Department for Transport.

Mr Shapps said: ‘This package of measures builds on the important work we have already done to ease this global crisis in the UK, and this Government continues to do everything we can to help the haulage and food industries contend with the HGV driver shortage.

‘We are acting now but the industries must also play their part, with working conditions continuing to improve and the deserved salary increases continuing to be maintained in order for companies to retain new drivers.

‘After a very difficult 18 months, I know how important this Christmas is for all of us and that’s why we’re taking these steps at the earliest opportunity to ensure preparations remain on track.’

The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated a global shortage of lorry drivers, although there have been long-term issues in the UK with labour numbers amid an ageing workforce, low wages and poor truck stop conditions.

The DfT said it recognised that importing foreign labour ‘will not be the long term solution’ to the problem and that it wanted to see investment poured into establishing a robust domestic workforce.

Officials said the Government continued to support solving the high vacancy rate through improved testing and hiring, with better pay, working conditions and diversity.

Another long-term measure to turn the situation around will see the Department for Education plough up to £10 million into creating new ‘skills bootcamps’ to train up to 3,000 more people to become HGV drivers.

The free, intensive courses will train drivers to undertake an entry level HGV licence (Category C) or a more advanced course to operate heavier and longer lorries (Category C&E).

Another 1,000 people are expected to be trained through courses accessed locally and funded by the Government’s adult education budget.

Those accessing medical and HGV licences through the adult budget in the 2021/22 academic year will have their qualifications paid for by the state, with the funding backdated to anyone who started one of these qualifications on or after August 1.

More DVSA examiners will also be freed up to conduct lorry driver tests via a law change to allow driving examiners at the three emergency services and the MoD to be able to conduct driving tests for one another.

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said: ‘HGV drivers keep this country running.

‘We are taking action to tackle the shortage of drivers by removing barriers to help more people to launch new well-paid careers in the industry, supporting thousands to get the training they need to be road ready.’

Environment Secretary George Eustice said: ‘We have listened to concerns from the sector and we are acting to alleviate what is a very tight labour market.’

The Government said it had already streamlined the process for new HGV drivers while increasing the number of driving tests available to allow for an extra 50,000 tests to take place per year. 

A BP at Hampton Court says 'Sorry we're out of diesel' after frenzied buying saw stations swamped by panicked customers

A BP at Hampton Court says ‘Sorry we’re out of diesel’ after frenzied buying saw stations swamped by panicked customers

A major shortage of HGV drivers threatens to wreak havoc this winter, and the shortage has been exacerbated by a huge backlog in HGV tests due to Covid

A major shortage of HGV drivers threatens to wreak havoc this winter, and the shortage has been exacerbated by a huge backlog in HGV tests due to Covid

Forecourt fury turns violent as drivers queuing to fill up exchange blows, while elsewhere motorists fill jerry cans and BP, Esso, Shell and Texaco limit drivers to £30 each – even though just ONE per cent of petrol stations are empty 

By Emer Scully, Joe Davies and Jacob Thorburn for MailOnline  

Furious motorists have been seen fighting as the nationwide rush for fuel continued yesterday, amid calls for calm from the Government because less than 100 petrol stations are empty.

Shocking footage shows panic buyers punch and kick at each other during a violent brawl at an Esso petrol forecourt in Sidlesham, Chicester, as roads were left gridlocked and police had to be called in to marshal drivers.

Two men were seen grappling before throwing punches at one another, while another enraged motorist launched a flying kick at another man as the scramble for fuel turned violent in the sleepy West Sussex village.

Thousands of desperate drivers ignored Government pleas for calm as they jammed roads – with fears mounting over the impact of lasting fuel shortages on the economy.

Shocking footage shows panic buyers punch and kick at each other during a violent brawl at an Esso petrol forecourt in Sidlesham, Chicester

Shocking footage shows panic buyers punch and kick at each other during a violent brawl at an Esso petrol forecourt in Sidlesham, Chicester

A man is pictured carrying containers at a Tesco Petrol Station in Bracknell, Berkshire, as desperate drivers resort to different means of securing their fuel

A man is pictured carrying containers at a Tesco Petrol Station in Bracknell, Berkshire, as desperate drivers resort to different means of securing their fuel

Queues at the BP petrol station in Soham,Cambridgeshire,at 8am on Saturday morning as the panic buying continues

Queues at the BP petrol station in Soham,Cambridgeshire,at 8am on Saturday morning as the panic buying continues

Photographs are today circulating online showing 'greedy' drivers stocking up on fuel

A  man fills up containers with fuel

Photographs are today circulating online showing ‘greedy’ drivers stocking up on fuel – which is already in short supply because of the absence of drivers to transport it from source to stations

Photographs are today circulating online showing drivers stocking up on fuel – which is already in short supply because of the absence of drivers to transport it from source to stations – as just one per cent of Britain’s petrol stations are empty, according to fuel bosses.

Some had multiple jerry cans in the boot of their cars and spent time filling each up while others queued for hours to reach the pump. Meanwhile, around 400 stations owned by the EG Group are limiting customers to £30 worth of petrol to give everyone a ‘fair chance to refuel’.

Meanwhile, Boris Johnson revealed a visa U-turn for 5,000 foreign truck drivers to try to stem the shortage. 

There are currently about 8,350 filling stations in the UK and less than 100 of them have been forced to close due to shortages. However, the Petrol Retailer’s Association has warned the situation could get worse before it improves. 

BP said around 20 of its 1,200 petrol forecourts were closed due to a lack of available fuel, with between 50 and 100 sites affected by the loss of at least one grade of fuel.

A ‘small number’ of Tesco refilling stations have also been impacted, said Esso owner ExxonMobil, which runs the sites. The queuing scenes come despite No 10 and motoring bodies urging the public not to panic-buy.

President of the AA Edmund King reiterated on Saturday there there ‘is plenty of fuel at the source’ and no need to stock up. When speaking to BBC Breakfast, he said the current queues at petrol stations were unlikely to last.

‘The good news is you can only really fill up once – you’ve got to use the fuel, so this should be a short-term thing,’ said Mr King. ‘It’s not like the fuel crises in the past when the supplier was hit by strikes, etc.

‘So, once people have filled up, they won’t travel more than they normally travel, so this strain on the system should ease up in the next few days.’  

As the crisis continued: 

  • Police were called to forecourts to manage queues, head off confrontations and keep traffic moving; 
  • Motorists in queues complained about greedy customers filling their tanks and then jerry cans;
  • Small petrol stations raised prices to cash in on the panic and experts warned of further increases;   
  • Couple missed an emergency A&E appointment because petrol station queues blocked a major road;
  • Haulage company boss warned a temporary change to visa rules would not solve the crisis.  

Toby Ovens, managing director of Broughton Transport Solutions, said he is not convinced a temporary visa scheme will solve the current shortage of HGV drivers. 

Photographs show desperate motorists queuing for petrol at 5.45am this morning at Sainsbury’s Alperton station as the hunt for fuel continued overnight.

And one woman told MailOnline her 75-year-old husband missed his emergency A&E hospital appointment this morning when they hit traffic queuing for Esso garage on Wood Street in Barnet, London. 

Dan Goldsmith, of Marine and Wildlife Rescue, told MailOnline his team couldn’t help ill seal pups around the Norfolk coast because they were running out of fuel.

He said: ‘We have numerous seal pups that are sick around the Norfolk coast and currently outstanding, we just have no fuel locally and now we are below 30 mile range for our vehicle, we have had to suspend our service. This situation is frustrating and so unfortunate.’ 

Britain is said to be short of more than 90,000 drivers, partly the result of coronavirus which cancelled the training and testing of tens of thousands of workers, and there are concerns an additional 5,000 may be too little, too late to halt the chaos.   

A motorist filled multiple vessels with illegal quantities of fuel amid a national shortage at stations because of the absence of delivery drivers

A motorist filled multiple vessels with illegal quantities of fuel amid a national shortage at stations because of the absence of delivery drivers 

A boot filled with jerry cans is pictured at a UK forecourt in Maidstone. Petrol stations are facing the impact of a shortage of tank drivers to bring the fuel from source to station

A boot filled with jerry cans is pictured at a UK forecourt in Maidstone. Petrol stations are facing the impact of a shortage of tank drivers to bring the fuel from source to station

Around 400 stations owned by the EG Group is limiting customers to £30 worth of petrol to give everyone a 'fair chance to refuel'. Pictured: Motorists queue to fill their cars at a Tesco fuel station in Ashford, Kent, on Saturday

Around 400 stations owned by the EG Group is limiting customers to £30 worth of petrol to give everyone a ‘fair chance to refuel’. Pictured: Motorists queue to fill their cars at a Tesco fuel station in Ashford, Kent, on Saturday

A sign is pictured outside an Esso garage informing the public that they have no fuel on Saturday in London amid fears fuel shortages could bring the economy to a grinding halt

A sign is pictured outside an Esso garage informing the public that they have no fuel on Saturday in London amid fears fuel shortages could bring the economy to a grinding halt

Storing jerry cans at home is illegal if not done properly 

It is illegal to store petrol at home in a jerry can because by law the fuel must be kept in small quantities.

Either a metal 10-litre container or a five-litre plastic one can be used.

Both have to carry a notice reading ‘Highly Flammable’ and the maximum amount that can be kept at home in total is 30 litres.

It is illegal to use 20-litre jerry can containers because the fuel must not be stored in such a large quantity in one vessel.     

The AA previously said it was ‘desperately worried’ about people storing petrol and diesel which it describes as ‘incredibly, incredibly dangerous’.

But it is legal to keep fuel as long as the strict limits are adhered to.  

There are guidelines for where the fuel can be kept: either in a shed; garage or outside no more than six metres from the house.    

Driver shortages are hitting every part of the economy, creating gaps on supermarket shelves, leaving pubs and restaurants short of key produce and jeopardising the supply of key chemicals to water firms.  

The problems were triggered after BP and Esso admitted on Thursday that a lack of tanker drivers was hitting deliveries. The news led to a race to the petrol pumps with the result that hundreds ran out of some fuel types and dozens closed altogether.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps‘ appeal for drivers to ‘carry on as normal’ has been ignored, leading to long jams and angry scenes at filling stations.    

Jackie Cohen’s husband Raymond missed his appointment on Saturday morning after queues completely blocked the road. Mrs Cohen told MailOnline: ‘The queues are so horrendous for the stations that are open the area is blocked off.’

The former social worker’s husband felt feint this morning and was told to visit Barnet General Hospital’s A&E by his doctor – a trip that should have taken ten minutes by car.

She added: ‘We got an appointment at 8.45am. We left very early and it took over an hour. He missed his appointment. The queues aren’t controlled in any way. 

‘I just spoke to a friend and there’s solid traffic where she lives too. I’m currently waiting in the car at the hospital while Raymond has tests and I can’t get home because I won’t get back in time.’

‘Once we cleared the garage the roads were empty,’ she said.

Elsewhere, police officers have been pictured standing among cars to ensure queues don’t block roads at one Esso station in Northwood, London.

The EG Group has limited customers to £30 worth of fuel to try to manage the sudden demand in supply. 

A Tesco Petrol Station in Bracknell, Berkshire, had a sign outside warning drivers there was limited petrol

A closed petrol station in Ashford, Kent

A Tesco Petrol Station in Bracknell, Berkshire, had a sign outside warning drivers there was limited petrol (left). Right, a closed petrol station in Ashford, Kent

Motorists queued at an Esso petrol station in Brockley, South London, on Saturday morning

Motorists queued at an Esso petrol station in Brockley, South London, on Saturday morning

A heated argument at a Londis in London after scenes of chaos at petrol stations

Customers were seen shouting at staff at a Londis in London amid fears fuel shortages could bring the economy to its knees

Boris Johnson is set for a foreign visas U-turn to allow in 5,000 lorry drivers amid frenzied buying  and flare ups (pictured, an argument between staff and customers at a Londis in London) at gridlocked filling stations

Cars were seen in snaking queues outside petrol stations as people rushed to buy petrol despite Transport Secretary Grant Shapps' appeal for drivers to 'carry on as normal'

Cars were seen in snaking queues outside petrol stations as people rushed to buy petrol despite Transport Secretary Grant Shapps’ appeal for drivers to ‘carry on as normal’

Frenzied buying has caused flare ups at gridlocked filling stations today (pictured in Tonbridge) as motorists ignored Government pleas for calm

Frenzied buying has caused flare ups at gridlocked filling stations today (pictured in Tonbridge) as motorists ignored Government pleas for calm

In a statement, a spokesperson said: ‘Due to the current unprecedented customer demand for fuel and associated supply challenges we have taken the decision to introduce a limit of £30 per customer on all of our grades of fuel.

‘This excludes HGV drivers and emergency services due to their vital role at this time. This is a company decision to ensure all our customers have a fair chance to refuel and to enable our sites to carry on running smoothly.

‘We kindly ask everyone visiting our sites to treat our colleagues, supply chain partners and customers with respect during these very challenging times.’

The head of the AA said while queues for fuel are unlikely to last, a shortage of lorry drivers and HGV drivers is an ongoing issue.

Speaking to BBC Breakfast, Mr King said: ‘The market is stretched, so I think that is a broader issue that is affecting the supply chain, not just the petrol and diesel but retail as well.’

He added that the current queues at petrol stations are unlikely to last because the supply chain is not hit by ongoing problems such as strikes.

Mr King said: ‘The good news is you can only really fill up once – you’ve got to use the fuel, so this should be a short-term thing.

‘It’s not like the fuel crises in the past when the supplier was hit by strikes, etc.

‘So, once people have filled up, they won’t travel more than they normally travel, so this strain on the system should ease up in the next few days.’

Mr King said there is ‘plenty of fuel at the source’ and no need to panic buy.

‘We were in discussions with Government ministers last night and we talked to the major fuel companies, and we can reiterate there is not a problem with supply at the source.

‘Earlier in the week, there were some problems with the supply chain, as we know, due to a shortage of some lorry drivers, but that was only a localised problem. Frankly, what has exacerbated it is people going out and filling up when they really don’t need to.

‘If you think about it, 30 million cars out there, if they’ve all got half a tank (and) if they all rush out to fill up the rest of the tank and the tank is about 60 litres, that will put a strain on the system.’ 

Mr King said the Government has freed up a number of driving tests for HGV drivers but said he did not know the specifics of further action it plans to take.

‘(The Government) said announcements will be imminent, so possibly over the weekend, I think, we will hear more detail on that,’ he said.

 

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