Fuel shortage: Army tanker drivers to be put on standby amid supply issues

Army tanker drivers will be put on a state of readiness in preparation for deployment to ease the chaos on fuel supply chains, the government has announced in the face of mounting pressure.

Military drivers will now get specialised training in preparation for their possible deployment, ministers announced on Monday.

An extension to ADR driver licences permitting drivers to maximise their available capacity instead of being taken out of circulation for refresher training purposes was also announced.

The measure will apply to licences expiring between Monday and December 31, and extend their validity until January 31 2022.

The move comes after many filling stations ran dry after drivers made a dash for the pumps amid fears a shortage of tanker drivers would hit supplies.


The Army tanker drivers will deliver fuel to where it is needed most, and provide reassurance that supplies remain strong, the government said.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said: “The men and women of our armed forces stand ready to alleviate the transport pressures where they are felt most.

“That is why I have authorised their increased preparedness so they are ready to respond if needed.”

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng, who issued the Military Aid to the Civil Authorities request, added: “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.

“The UK continues to have strong supplies of fuel, however we are aware of supply chain issues at fuel station forecourts and are taking steps to ease these as a matter of priority.

“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.”

Earlier on Monday the fuel industry sought to assure motorists, saying it expects the panic-buying of petrol and diesel to wind down, adding "there is plenty of fuel".

In a joint statement, fuel firms also called for drivers to stop panic buying and provided reassurance that demand will return to normal in the next few days.

The statement was signed by BP, Shell UK, Esso/ ExxonMobil, Wincanton, Certas, Energy UK, Hoyer Petrolog UK, Greenergy, Fuels Transport & Log., Downstream Fuel and Suckling.


The latest announcement from the government comes just hours after Environment Secretary George Eustice denied there are plans for soldiers to drive Heavy Good Vehicles carrying fuel.

He said fuel shortages at petrol station forecourts have been caused by people panic-buying, not by a shortage of HGV drivers.

“The most important thing is that people buy petrol as they normally would," Mr Eustice said.

"There isn’t a shortage. There have been some shortages of HGV drivers getting petrol to forecourts but actually that is quite limited."

Asked about reports of the Army being drafted in to reduce the shortage of drivers, Mr Eustice said there are “no plans at the moment” to use the military to drive petrol tankers.


Mr Eustice said the MoD was only helping with the training of HGV drivers, in a bid to reduce the testing backlog, which some reports claim is as long as 40,000.

“We are bringing Ministry of Defence trainers in to accelerate some of the HGV training to clear a backlog of people who want to carry out those tests, and there’s definitely a role there for the MOD.

“In terms of other things we’ve no plans at the moment to bring in the Army to actually do the driving, but we always have a Civil Contingencies section within the Army on standby – but we’re not jumping to that necessarily at the moment.”

The environment secretary said "there does come a point – as we saw during a previous episode of panic-buying during the pandemic on food – where things settle down and people get used to it, and return to life as normal again.

“The sooner people do that the better. The only reason we don’t have petrol on the forecourts is that people are buying petrol they don’t need.”


Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has also previously refused to rule out requesting military assistance.

The Petrol Retailers Association (PRA) chair Brian Madderson confirmed some training had been taking place “in the background” for military personnel.

But he warned the Army could not solve the problem alone and said there was no “single lever” the government and the industry could pull to resolve the crisis.

The U-turn is the second the government has made over the driver shortage, with Mr Shapps introducing visas for overseas workers by relaxing rules to allow 5,000 more foreign drivers into the country until Christmas Eve.


Mr Shapps said visas were “only one element” of the government’s relief plan, as he admitted efforts to rebuild the domestic freight workforce could take years.

The package of measures involves ambitions to train 4,000 more lorry drivers, while the Army have been drafted in to provide extra HGV driving tests to reduce the backlog caused by the coronavirus pandemic lockdowns.

Nearly one million letters will also be landing on the doormats of people with HGV licences in the coming days enticing them to return to the job now that wages have risen.

Another measure taken by the government was temporarily exempting the fuel industry from the Competition Act to allow it to share information so it can target areas where supply is running low.


Invoking what is known as the Downstream Oil Protocol, Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said: “While there has always been and continues to be plenty of fuel at refineries and terminals, we are aware that there have been some issues with supply chains.

“This is why we will enact the protocol to ensure industry can share vital information and work together more effectively to ensure disruption is minimised.”

As part of government efforts to relieve wider supply chain pressures, 5,500 foreign worker visas will also be made available to the poultry sector as it strives to ensure a healthy array of turkeys are available for Christmas dinners.

But retailers warned the decision to relax immigration rules to fix supply chain issues was “too little, too late” to keep shop shelves fully stocked this December.

British Retail Consortium director Andrew Opie said the truck driver shortage meant “we won’t be able to get all the products on to the shelves that we would have liked to.”

Mr Shapps said visas were “only one element” of the government’s relief plan, as he admitted efforts to rebuild the domestic freight workforce could take years.

The package of measures involves ambitions to train 4,000 more lorry drivers, while the Army have been drafted in to provide extra HGV driving tests to reduce the backlog caused by the coronavirus pandemic lockdowns.

Nearly one million letters will also be landing on the doormats of people with HGV licences in the coming days enticing them to return to the job now that wages have risen.

Another measure taken by the government was temporarily exempting the fuel industry from the Competition Act to allow it to share information so it can target areas where supply is running low.