According to the Petrol Retailer’s Association, over 60% of its 5,500 stations in the UK were out of fuel with the remaining ones running low.

However, UK energy secretary George Eustice stated that there is only a shortage because of the panic buying and if people returned to their normal habits, normality would resume. People buying fuel when they have not needed it has led to supply shortages as demand skyrocketed.

The fears were caused by media coverage suggesting the issue surrounding a lack of HGV drivers would leave some stations without fuel. This came about after a BP submission to the government was leaked which led to mass media coverage.

Brian Madderson, chairman of the Petrol Retailers Association, told the BBC that the situation would have been ‘entirely manageable’ with a few closures of stations. It was the media-induced hysteria that has exacerbated the situation leading to current problems.

Although the issue will likely be resolved in the coming days, it should serve as a reminder to the media and the public that these issues are largely self-induced. The panic buying resembles a similar trend to the start of the pandemic when supermarkets were left with empty shelves after the UK public stocked up.

Over the coming days, the situation is likely to ease

With large numbers of people now with enough fuel, the hope is the pressure on petrol stations will ease and gradually habits will return to normal. Competition laws are being relaxed as they were with supermarkets in March 2020 so that fuel firms can work together and target where supply is needed.

However, further contingency measures are in place if the crisis is not resolved. Plans to deploy the Army to drive tankers is one potential solution being discussed.

There are concerns over key workers being unable to access fuel with the British Medical Association (BMA) calling for priority access. Chairman Dr Chaand Nagpaul argued there was a ‘real risk that NHS staff won’t be able to do their jobs.’ Additionally, industries and workers reliant on fuel such as logistics firms and delivery drivers may struggle over the coming days.

The fuel crisis has overshadowed the issue of HGV driver shortages

The shortage of HGV drivers has been a growing concern for the government in recent months with Brexit, Covid-19 and other factors leading to a significant decline in the number of drivers in the UK.

Although the shortage should not have caused such panic buying, there are long term concerns for the economy if it is not resolved. It has already disrupted numerous supply chains in the UK including supermarkets and restaurants.

The government has tabled a number of plans including temporary visas to entice drivers in the EU and higher wages. It has also sent around a million letters to HGV driver license holders not working in the industry to encourage them to return.

Whether these measures work remains to be seen but long term the government needs to make the industry more attractive to younger workers. Otherwise, we may see empty shelves and petrol stations as a more common issue.