The British government is putting the military on standby as part of further measures to resolve a supply chain crisis that has led fuel pumps to run dry amid panic-buying by motorists.
The move to mobilise the army comes after a widespread shortage of truck drivers, which has led to serious supply problems for retailers and restaurants in the past few months, has meant plentiful stocks of fuel have not reached filling stations.
A warning of fuel supply shortages at the end of last week has led to panic buying, with long lines of cars waiting for hours to fill up, and resulted in pumps in cities across Britain running dry.
The government had already announced plans to issue temporary visas for 5000 foreign truck drivers, suspend competition laws and entice former drivers back into the industry as part of measures to deal with the labour shortage.
It said it would now put a limited number of military tanker drivers on a state of readiness to be deployed if necessary.
“While the fuel industry expects demand will return to its normal levels in the coming days, it’s right that we take this sensible, precautionary step,” Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said late on Monday.
“If required, the deployment of military personnel will provide the supply chain with additional capacity as a temporary measure to help ease pressures caused by spikes in localised demand for fuel.”
The army tanker drivers would receive specialised training before deploying to help deal with supply chain issues, the government said.
The demand for fuel has meant 50 per cent to 90 per cent of pumps were dry in some areas, according the Petrol Retailers Association.
The fuel industry said there was no shortage, and the issue was transporting petrol and diesel to forecourts.
Hauliers, petrol stations and retailers say there are no quick fixes as the shortfall of truck drivers – estimated to be about 100,000 – is so acute, and because transporting fuel demands additional training and licensing.
The government said it was also extending specific heavy goods vehicle licences for those whose permits were due to expire in the next three months to allow them to keep working without having to take refresher courses.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said demand was easing at petrol stations as the public responded to the message not to buy fuel unnecessarily.