Stop blaming public for petrol shortages, Labour tells ministers

Attack on Johnson’s handling of the crisis comes as Grant Shapps heralds tentative signs of stablisation

Last modified on Tue 28 Sep 2021 08.31 EDT

The UK transport secretary has suggested there have been tentative signs that pressure on filling stations is beginning to ease, while acknowledging that it may take time to have an impact on queues.

Grant Shapps said: “There are now the first very tentative signs of stabilisation in forecourt storage, which will not be reflected in the queues as yet.

“But it is the first time that we have seen more petrol actually in the petrol stations. As the industry said yesterday, the sooner we can all return to our normal buying habits, the sooner the situation will return to normal.”

The chair of the Petrol Retailers Association said customers were still panic-buying petrol across the country and filling stations had emptied within hours of being refilled.

Labour launched a new attack on the prime minister’s handling of the crisis, saying Boris Johnson and his ministers needed to stop blaming the public. The party said it was the government’s “toxic recipe of denial” and “boosterism” about labour shortages that had caused the problem.

Luke Pollard, the shadow environment secretary, said it was wrong for No 10 to say panic buying was behind the run on fuel stations. The government should have planned better for shortages of lorry drivers that were predicted because of the way it carried out Brexit, he added.

“This is a playbook we’ve seen from the government for every crisis,” he said. “Deny there’s a problem. Fail to plan for the problem. Blame the public for the problem. Blame someone else and then call in the army. It is utter incompetence.”

Pollard said it was a failure for the government to have got to the point where putting the army on standby was necessary, and argued it was difficult to accuse people of panic-buying when many were simply trying to fill up their cars as normal.

“There’s a really big difference between filling your car full of toilet rolls and filling your fuel tank to full. Generally speaking, people fill their car up to full and then go off and do their thing. The blame for this is not on the public,” he said.

The Petrol Retailers Association chair, Brian Madderson, said his members were worried about putting a £30 cap on purchases because of the risk of people confronting staff, adding that prioritising key workers for fuel would be unworkable.

“As soon as a tanker arrives at a filling station, people on social media are advising that a tanker has arrived and then it is like bees to a honey pot. Everyone flocks there and … within a few hours it is out again,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

No 10 said on Monday that army drivers would be ready to help deliver petrol and diesel on a short-term basis, but stopped short of an immediate deployment, even though some essential workers have not been able to carry out their jobs without fuel.

Tobias Ellwood, the chair of parliament’s defence select committee, has said the army should be mobilised, not just put on standby, to regain public confidence.

“The country wants to see the government is in command and it has a clear cross-Whitehall plan,” he told Sky News. “We have gone from 1% fuel pump shortages to 90% so altering people’s buying behaviour to prevent the panic-buying and going back to previous purchasing patterns requires regaining the confidence of the nation.”

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