The business secretary has said that soldiers will be delivering fuel in the next couple of days to ease petrol supply issues
Kwasi Kwarteng, the UK’s business secretary, has admitted that the past few days, which have seen long queues outside petrol stations and some pumps running dry, had been “difficult”.
However, he denied there was a crisis in UK fuel supplies and said the situation was “stabilising”.
Some 150 military drivers are ready to drive the fuel tankers.
The government had put the Army on standby in case the fuel situation worsened, but on Wednesday morning Mr Kwarteng revealed that ministers had decided to deploy troops to drive tankers “in the next couple of days”.
On Tuesday, speaking for the first time since issues began at filling stations, Prime Minister Boris Johnson also sought to reassure drivers about supplies, saying that people should be “confident” to go about their business.
Sir Keir Starmer used his first in-person conference speech as Labour leader on Wednesday to criticise the government’s handling of fuel supply issues.
This comes after the UK government was considering using the army, in order to help with the fuel deliveries as some petrol brands report that as many as 90% of their sites are now running dry.
Referring to the government’s flagship “levelling up” policy to lower regional inequalities, he said: “Level up, you can’t even fill up.”
He accused the government of ignoring the issues, blaming others and delivering “half-baked” solutions with “no plan in place”.
Mr Starmer urged the PM to “either get a grip or get out of the way and let us step up clear up this mess”.
James Spencer, managing director at fuel supplier Portland Fuel, said the UK was over the worst of the situation and that sending in the Army would “generate more panic”.
“Under normal circumstances supply can easily meet demand,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. He added that now many people had filled up their tanks, there might be a “dip in demand”.
Fuel supplies are plentiful at the nation’s refineries but a shortage of tanker drivers caused problems with deliveries to a small number of filling stations last week.
Reports of pumps running dry at some garages then subsequently led to a surge in demand.
The Petrol Retailers Association (PRA) said there were “early signs” the pressure was starting to ease at the pumps.
The PRA, which represents nearly 5,500 of the UK’s 8,000 stations, said about 37% of its sites had run out of fuel – compared with two-thirds being without on Sunday.
Brian Madderson, PRA chairman, said on Wednesday that it was a “mixed” picture across the country, with sites reporting more deliveries, “but as fast as the deliveries come in there are people queuing to fill up their cars and take that fuel out again”.
He told BBC News that while there were “less queues [and] panic buying” there was still “unusually heavy demand”, with “one or two” petrol station groups reporting fewer dry sites than on Tuesday.
This comes after thousands of people, including key NHS staff and teachers have said that they are unable to get to work due as a result of the national fuel shortage crisis, with some facing the prospect of potentially returning to working from home where possible.
He said fully replenishing fuel stocks at all UK forecourts would not be completed “in a day or a few days” but that there was still “plenty to go round”.
Sainsbury’s, which has 315 filling stations, said it was still “experiencing high demand for fuel” and that “all our sites continue to receive fuel”.
A hypothetical analysis by BBC Two’s Newsnight estimated that it would take about eight days for every vehicle in the UK to fill up under current higher levels of demand.
But the Times reported industry sources as saying disruption could “continue for weeks” because of the time it will take to restock petrol stations.
And Steve McNamara, general secretary of the Licensed Taxi Driver Association, said that the situation was “not getting better”, with 25% to 30% of his members unable to work on Tuesday because they could not get fuel.
He called for an essential users list to be brought in to “take the sting out of this crisis”.