© Reuters. Following a fuel delivery from a BP Filling Station in Hersham, Britain on September 30, 2021, a driver walks by his tanker. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls
By James Davey and Guy Faulconbridge
LONDON (Reuters) -More than two thousand British gas stations were still dry on Thursday due a shortage of truck drivers which was starting to disrupt deliveries to pharmacies, while farmers warned a lack of butchers could lead to a massive cull of pigs.
British ministers claimed the crisis is easing in a week that saw gas station fights and petrol bottles being filled with gasoline. However, they instructed soldiers to take over driving tanker trucks on Wednesday.
Ministers rejected claims that Britain’s withdrawal caused the trucker shortage. Instead, they pointed out similar problems elsewhere in the world after COVID-19 lockdowns prevented thousands from passing truck driver test.
According to the Petrol Retailers Association, which is responsible for 65% of Britain’s 8,380 forecourts (PRA), members of this association reported that 27% were empty, 21% only had one type of fuel in stock, and 52% had sufficient petrol and diesel.
According to Gordon Balmer (PRA Executive Director), “This is running out faster than normal due to unimaginable demand.” He said that he still hears about verbal abuse and physical violence against staff at gas stations.
Representatives from Reuters visited 10 London-area petrol stations on Thursday. Three stations were available. The queue was backed by dozens of drivers, and staff tried to direct it.
The shortage of truckers was so severe that pharmacy supply chains were also being affected.
A spokeswoman from the association representing large pharmacy owners said that “the entire supply chain has been affected, inbound wholesale supply supply down to outward delivery to pharmacies.”
The industry also warned about fuel and medicine shortages. If visas are not issued by the government, pig farmers may be forced to cult hundreds of thousands of animals.
The Transport ministry reported that motor traffic was down 6 percentage points from Monday, the highest volume of non-holiday Mondays in six years. England lifted COVID restrictions in July 19.
Britain’s projected 7% annual economic growth is at risk from the disruption it causes and the price spikes that result.
The Office for National Statistics released data on Thursday showing that the economy experienced a greater growth rate than expected in the April-June period. This was despite what appeared to be a sudden slowdown as post-lockdown bottlenecks (including the lack of truck drivers) mount.
The gas station crisis has provoked scorn in some European capitals, with senior politicians suggesting Britain’s trucker shortage was a clear consequence of its 2016 referendum decision to leave the EU.
Although British ministers denied it, thousands of EU truckers have left the country during Brexit chaos.
The acute shortage in meat processors has been made worse by COVID-19, Britain’s post Brexit immigration policy and the COVID-19. This has cut off the flow east European workers.
Lizzie Wilson is the policy services officer for the National Pig Association. She stated that because there were fewer butchers, processors had to operate at 25% lower capacity.
The result is that mature pigs, which are available for processing, have been backed-up on farms. This has led to welfare concerns.
Wilson stated that there are approximately 120,000 pigs currently on farms. These pigs should be slaughtered and butchered by the time they reach the food chain.
Minette Batters of the National Farmers Union said that a cull up to 150,000 of these pigs could be “potentially within a week or ten days”.