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Petrol station industry downplays fuel issues as BP and Tesco close sites

·2-min read
BP has closed a small number of filing stations (Nick Ansell/PA) (PA Archive)
BP has closed a small number of filing stations (Nick Ansell/PA) (PA Archive)

The petrol station industry has downplayed fears about the impact of driver shortages on fuel supply, insisting most forecourts are still open for business and well stocked.

BP has been forced to close a small number of petrol stations after a shortage of lorry drivers left sites low on fuel. The shortages have prompted crisis meetings in government and public calls for Brits not to panic buy.

Gordon Balmer, executive director of the Petrol Retailers Association, downplayed the issues and insisted problems were localised.

“BP have been having difficulties as you know,” Balmer told the Standard. ”Others, Tesco, a bit more sporadic, but by and large most other companies seem to be operating and open for business fine.”

The PRA represents over 5,000 forecourts across the UK. Balmer said most members weren’t reporting issues.

A spokesperson for Esso, the second biggest petrol station operator in the UK, said it had closed “a small number” of sites it operates with Tesco. A spokesperson for Tesco said it had “good availability of fuel” across its 500 wholly owned filling stations.

“We would like to reassure our customers that we are not rationing fuel,” a Tesco spokesperson said.

The Standard understands that Shell and EG Group, two other major petrol station operators, have not been affected by driver shortages. Both declined to comment.

Insiders across the industry denied reports that fuel was being rationed, saying there was plenty of petrol supply.

“The nub of the problem is the lorry drivers,” Balmer said. “Some companies have their fleet in-house so they have their own driver pool, others outsource it to third-party haulage firms. It’s really company-by-company.”

Hauliers estimate that the UK is short at least 100,000 lorry drivers, with Brexit and the pandemic blamed. The shortage is causing issues across the economy, with supermarkets reporting low stock in some stores and restaurants like Nando’s forced to close some sites temporarily.

If a shortage of petrol tanker drivers persists, Balmer said businesses could start to suffer.

“The cardinal sin of a fuel station is: you don’t run out of fuel,” he said. “They would lose daily sales and obviously any subsequent shop sales on that. There is concern. But what our members are looking to do is work with their fuel supplier.”

Share prices were unmoved by the issues. BP rose 0.1% in London and Shell was 0.3% higher. Both were boosted by oil prices near 3-year highs.

Balmer urged motorists not to panic buy and to be “sensible” about filling up.

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