Temporary visas expected to allow foreign HGV drivers to help alleviate UK petrol queues

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The government is expected to clear the way for a visa change that would allow thousands of foreign lorry drivers to work in the UK.

The temporary measures would be aimed at HGV truckers from abroad plugging the gaps that have been blamed for causing queues at petrol pumps and shortages in some food items.

No 10 has insisted any move would be “very strictly time-limited” and it is believed Boris Johnson has allowed ministers to relax UK immigration rules to bring in the visa scheme.

A Downing Street spokesperson said the country had “ample fuel stocks…and there are no shortages”.

Petrol queues on a forecourt in west London at 4am on Saturday
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Queues of cars were seen overnight at some UK petrol stations, including this one in west London

Long queues of cars at UK petrol stations started forming on Friday morning and continued overnight, as concerns over supplies spread.

On Friday, ministers met for urgent talks on how to address what has been estimated as a shortage of more than 100,000 drivers.

Sky’s deputy political editor Sam Coates reported that the prime minister has cleared the way for the visa change in the hope that it could prevent a crisis.

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The details are expected to be revealed on Sunday in a bid to overshadow the start of Labour’s party conference.

Analysis by Sam Coates, Deputy Political Editor

This marks a big change in approach. Previously the government has focused on handing visas to high skilled individuals in the hope that labour shortages would drive up wages to make professions more attractive to people who already live in the UK.

However, the short term consequence of this has proved too disruptive for the heavy goods industry which is why ministers have been forced to act.

The cabinet has been given dire warnings of the consequences of a failure to act and the situation worsening, impacting everything from food distribution to the NHS to delivery of water purification chemicals.

A Downing Street spokesperson said: “We have ample fuel stocks in this country and the public should be reassured there are no shortages.

“But like countries around the world, we are suffering from a temporary COVID-related shortage of drivers needed to move supplies around the country.

“We’re looking at temporary measures to avoid any immediate problems, but any measures we introduce will be very strictly time limited.

“We are moving to a high wage, high skilled economy and businesses will need to adapt with more investment in recruitment and training to provide long-term resilience.”

Retailers have warned the government has just 10 days to save Christmas from “significant disruption” due to the shortage.

The British Retail Consortium (BRC) has warned that disruption to festive preparations will be “inevitable” if progress is not made.

A delivery of fuel at a Shell garage in Clapham, London
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A small number of petrol forecourts have closed due to fuel shortages

Sky’s political correspondent Tamara Cohen reported earlier that ministers were split on whether or not to offer temporary visas to try and tackle the shortage of HGV drivers.

Meanwhile, Sky News understands that government departments are being asked to come up with emergency contingency plans in case high fuel prices persist.

Suggestions include using military driving examiners so people could qualify as HGV drivers more quickly.

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Why are there supply shortages in UK?

Troops with HGV qualifications have the capability to test would-be civilian drivers to enable them to gain the right qualifications to drive HGV lorries, a defence source told Sky News.

But the source added that there has not been any request for the military to provide fuel lorry drivers themselves.

“No one has asked us to provide drivers. No one is currently asking us. I don’t expect anyone to ask us to provide drivers,” they said.

On Friday afternoon, BP said that between 50 and 100 stations have been affected by the loss of at least one grade of fuel, with around 20 of its 1,200 sites currently closed through loss of delivery supply.

EG Group, which has 341 petrol stations across the UK, imposed a £30 spending limit on customers “due to the current unprecedented customer demand for fuel”.

Is Britain running on empty?

Shell reported an “increased demand” at stations, with many drivers experiencing longer queues than normal.

Tesco said two of its 500 petrol stations were affected – describing the impact as minimal.

Sainsbury’s, Asda, and Morrisons said they were not affected.

The AA said that most of the UK’s forecourts are working as they should, with president Edmund King saying: “There is no shortage of fuel and thousands of forecourts are operating normally with just a few suffering temporary supply chain problems.”

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HGV driver shortage ‘a cocktail of chaos’

Speaking to Kay Burley, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the shortage of drivers should “smooth out fairly quickly” as more HGV driving tests have been made available.

“The problem is not new,” he insisted, adding: “There has been a lack of drivers for many months through this pandemic because during the lockdown drivers couldn’t be passed through their lorry HGV tests, and that is what has led to this problem.”

The latest ONS Labour Force Survey found that 14,000 EU lorry drivers left the UK in the year to June 2020.

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