Is the army going to deliver fuel? How British military tankers and drivers could help with petrol shortage

Military drivers have been put on standby as the fuel crisis continues

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The military has been put on standby to help deliver fuel in order to ease the current crisis - and the government has rejected claims it failed to mobilise troops soon enough.

Long queues were again reported outside stations which were open, after the Government announced it was putting the army on standby in an effort to ensure supplies were maintained.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson originally drew back from activating Operation Escalin – first drawn up to deal with the aftermath of Brexit – for troops to fill in and drive tankers.

The Government had been hoping that the queues would ease as people returned to more normal buying patterns.

The oil companies have said they expect the pressure on forecourts to ease in the coming days, with many cars carrying more fuel than usual.

However, Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng, who issued the Military Aid to the Civil Authorities request on Monday, said putting troops on readiness to assist was a “sensible, precautionary step”.

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng has said the military would help only temporarily (image: Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images)Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng has said the military would help only temporarily (image: Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images)
Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng has said the military would help only temporarily (image: Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images)

Will the army deliver fuel?

The Government had been hoping the queues would ease as people returned to more normal buying patterns.

However, on Monday measures aimed at easing the supply chain issues were announced, which included the approval to put on standby a pool of military drivers.

The request for military assistance to the civil authorities (Maca) request has been approved, with up to 150 drivers and the same number of drivers’ mates potentially able to be used.

A Government source said the troops were “still on standby but can now start training now it’s approved”.

They could be deployed in the coming days if required.

It means British Army tanker drivers would be ready to deliver fuel to where it is needed most.

The military drivers will now receive specialised training before deploying, in order to help them work with the industry to address the supply chain pressures.

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.”

What has the response been to having the army on standby?

With reports of fights breaking out on forecourts amid mounting frustration, the chairman of the Commons Defence Committee Tobias Ellwood said the Government needed to show it had a clear plan for dealing with the crisis.

“Simply hoping this situation will return to normal is not a strategy,” he told Sky News.

“I believe the army should not just be put on standby but in fact mobilised, be seen to be used. That will help ease the pressure on shortages of course, it will return public confidence.”

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, however, rejected claims they should have begun to use troops to start delivering supplies sooner.

“There is a series of escalations that you go through in a crisis like this,” he said.

“The system was just about coping until last weekend and it would have been capable of continuing to do so.

“Unfortunately, as we have seen with toilet rolls and other things, once people start to pursue a particular item it can quickly escalate.”

Has the army been deployed to help in similar situations?

Last month 2,000 HGV drivers from the Royal Logistics Corps were on standby to deliver food and other essentials to supermarkets amid the driver shortage.

The army has also been used in the country’s Covid-19 response.

The Ministry of Defence (MOD) said earlier this year the Armed Forces’ response to Covid-19 had become the biggest ever homeland military operation in peacetime, with more than 5,000 personnel involved.

As well as delivering the vaccine to people, they also helped with the logistics and setting up of mass vaccination sites.

Royal Navy medics also delivered hundreds of vaccine jabs to people at Ashton Gate Stadium in Bristol.

Is the fuel crisis starting to ease off?

The Petrol Retailers Association (PRA) has reported that there are “early signs” the crisis is coming to an end. the Prime Minister expressed confidence the worst was over.

PRA executive director Gordon Balmer said the numbers of filling stations reporting they had run dry was falling as fuel deliveries recovered.

“There are early signs that the crisis at pumps is ending, with more of our members reporting that they are now taking further deliveries of fuel,” he said.

Mr Johnson said the Government was putting in place measures to ensure the entire supply chain could cope in the run-up to Christmas.

“I want to say first of all how much I sympathise with people who have been worried about their journeys, worried about whether they will be able to use their cars in the normal way,” he said.

“I know how frustrating and worrying it must have been to worry about a shortage of petrol and fuel.

“We are now starting to see the situation improve. We are hearing from industry that supplies are coming back on to the forecourts in the normal way.

“What we want to do is to make sure we have the preparations necessary to get through to Christmas and beyond, not just in the supply of our petrol stations but all parts of our supply chain.”

What other measures are being taken to ease the crisis?

Mr Shapps said the primary cause of the crisis had been the pandemic which had led to the cancellation of 30,000 HGV tests last year resulting in a shortage of qualified drivers.

However, he acknowledged that Brexit – which had cut off the supply of foreign drivers – has had an impact.

“No doubt it will have been a factor. On the other hand it has actually helped us to change rules to be able to test more drivers more quickly,” he said.

“So, it has actually worked in both ways.”

Among the measures announced to help ease the crisis is an extension to ADR driver licences, which allows drivers to transport goods, such as fuel.

Ordinarily ADR licences are valid for up to five years, with holders having to undertake refresher training and pass an exam, which takes three days, in the final year of validity as a requirement of renewal.

It will apply to licences expiring between 27 September and 31 December this year, and extend their validity until 31 January next year.

It would help provide immediate relief to the shortage of fuel drivers by allowing affected drivers to continue to be available instead of being taken out of circulation for refresher training purposes.

Changes to HGV tests were also announced recently.

The Government had also announced it would be issuing 5,000 temporary visas to foreign lorry drivers to alleviate the shortages which led to the crisis.

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