BP has warned it has had to “temporarily” close some of its petrol stations due to a shortage of lorry drivers.
The oil firm said only “a handful” of sites were affected by the fuel supply issues, which have led to a lack of unleaded and diesel fuel.
There are around 1,200 BP branded petrol stations around the UK, of which 300 are operated by BP themselves.
The company said it was working hard to address the issues.
Supply chain delays had been “impacted by industry wide driver shortages across the UK” and that the company was working hard to address the issues, BP said in a statement.
“We continue to work with our haulier supplier to minimise disruption and to ensure efficient and effective deliveries,” the company added.
Other petrol station operators have been approached by the BBC for comment.
Esso said that a “small number” of its 200 Tesco Alliance retail sites have been affected.
“We are working closely with all parties in our distribution network to optimise supplies and minimise any inconvenience to customers. We apologise to our customers for any inconvenience,” a spokesperson from Esso added.
However, supermarket Morrisons, which operates 338 petrol stations across the UK, said it was not seeing any similar issues at the moment.
Co-op runs 130 petrol stations in the country, and said it has a “full compliment” of fuel delivery drivers.
Tesco also said that they have a “good availability of fuel” and both Sainsbury’s and Asda said there are no current issues in their fuel supplies.
Downing Street has said people should continue buying fuel as normal.
A spokesman for Prime Minister Boris Johnson said there was no shortage of fuel in the UK, adding: “We obviously recognise the challenges faced by the industry and we’re taking steps to support them.”
He pointed to changes made by the Department for Transport to make it quicker for HGV drivers to get their licences and said that this is a problem several countries are facing.
Grant Shapps also told the BBC’s Question Time on Thursday that he believed the shortages had also been caused because of working conditions that “hadn’t been pleasant” and that higher salaries offered to drivers was something the government was “happy to see”.
He also said that improvements in the availability of tests were “coming in prior to Christmas… so these are things that will resolve the issues in the lead up to Christmas”.
The temporary closures come just months after BP had to close a “handful” of its UK sites in July because of lorry driver shortages. At the time, BP said its supply chain issues had also been exacerbated by the closure of a distribution terminal due to staff being told to isolate.
‘I can’t operate a site at a loss’
Paul Cheema has run a petrol station in Coventry since 2013, and says he’s never experienced a situation like this before.
“We used to be able to put orders in for next day delivery. Now we have to do it a week in advance, but we’re ordering blind. We don’t know how much fuel we’re going to sell in that time. If we’ll have enough, or even too much,” says Paul.
“Last week we put in an order for a delivery to arrive today. That was pushed back until tomorrow, and now we’ve been told it won’t arrive until Saturday.”
“So that means we won’t have any unleaded petrol to sell tomorrow,” he said.
Paul says that fuel delivery delays have been happening all summer, but it’s been particularly bad in the last couple of weeks.
“We’re a petrol station. We should have availability 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. I’m not blaming our fuel supplier. It’s not their fault. It’s the bigger driver shortage problem behind it.”
He sells thousands of litres of unleaded every day, so the cost implications for him are huge.
“There could be a 40% impact on sales with this week’s delivery problems. If I haven’t got any liquid in the ground, I’m not making money. I can’t operate the site at a loss.”
“If I haven’t got fuel to sell, that customer isn’t coming into my petrol station shop either, so I’m losing money there too,” says Paul.
The Petrol Retailers Association (PRA), which represents petrol station operators across the UK, said that some sites across the UK were seeing delivery delays, but that they were largely confined to London and the South East, and were “temporary by nature”.
Gordon Balmer from the PRA said that petrol station closures were rare, and that the fuel supply chain was resilient enough to cope.
“Fuel demand is still only at 92% of pre-pandemic levels so we believe there should be ample stock available at refineries and delivery terminals throughout the UK.”
Many businesses have been complaining about the UK’s shortage of lorry drivers, which is still causing serious supply chain problems.
The coronavirus pandemic, Brexit and tax changes have all contributed to a lack of qualified drivers. Industry bodies estimate there is a shortfall of about 100,000 workers.
Logistics UK, which represents the haulage industry, said it was “aware of reports that petrol supplies are currently being affected” by the lack of drivers.
“The driver shortage is a very serious issue that needs urgent government and industry action to resolve, however, we urge people not to panic buy; the logistics industry is resilient and has proven capable of supporting shops, families and businesses during Covid-19, border closures and the first stages of Brexit, and will continue to serve the needs of the nation,” the industry body said.