Opinion : We’ve seen it all before

2021 fuel crisis

If you’ve been stuck in a queue for fuel this weekend, my sympathies are with you. Not only because you’ve been inconvenienced and have suffered from anxieties about whether you’re going to get where you’re going, but also because of the insults thrown in your direction on social media.

Ah yes, that old thing. It’s been a tiring day peering into Facebook and Twitter and finding normally mild-mannered people referring to others as ‘morons’, ‘cretins’ and worse, just because they’ve been spooked into buying fuel as a result of being told not to worry by our Prime Minister, and amplified by the media.

Yes, let’s face it – we’re humans and are saddled with the fragilities that come with it. Mass hysteria is a palpable thing and, when a need is created, we’ll all do what we need to in order to make sure we’re okay. So, although I find myself tutting and shaking my head at those who have resorted to panic buying this weekend, I’m not going to condemn them for their behaviour. Maybe we all need to look more closely at whether we really should be sucked in by political and media hype.

We’ve been here before

I’m happy to view situations like this through a more historical lens. I’ve lived through several fuel shortages during my lifetime, and we managed to muddle through all of them. In 1973, there really was an Energy Crisis, and the fuel started to run out – as was the case in 1979. Geo-political issues limited supply to Europe and the USA, with the end result being swingeing price rises and queues at the pumps. The world economy took years to recover.

Later in 2000, HGV drivers blockaded fuel depots in the UK, which saw the pumps rapidly run dry once it became clear that no fuel was being delivered. Panic buying caused this issue. This was a much more localised issue, but for four days, it really did cause serious problems for many people.

And here we are again – fuel queues are with us because of supply issues caused by a shortage of qualified HGV drivers. Of the former crises, this one feels closest to 2000 – a potential shortage is reported and people end up responding by filling up their tanks. For what it’s worth, my take is that this spike in fuel demand will soon be levelled out, and the queues will die down once the news agenda changes. How long? Well, I’ll give it ’til Tuesday before normality at the fuel pumps returns.

So, that’s that?

Of course not! HGV drivers have had a terrible deal in the UK for years. Pay has fallen behind inflation for years, while facilities for drivers are awful – rest areas are few and far between and are generally disgusting, it costs a fortune for them to park overnight, and the roads are overcrowded and hobbled by far too many overnight closures. No wonder drivers have been quitting in numbers, and have not been replaced.

Overseas drivers were needed to prop up our ageing and disillusioned workforce, and were welcomed with open arms by employers. And then the climate changed and, since 2016, we as a country have been telling them to go home. Guess what, they did. Do you think that the Government’s offer of 5000 temporary visas for truck drivers will result in qualified drivers coming to the UK? What do you think?

The good news is that qualified drivers are finally getting well-deserved wage-hikes, and that should be set to continue thanks to demand and supply economics. Of course, this doesn’t fill your tank up this weekend, but stay firm – demand for fuel is spiking right now, but it will level out again. The problem is that, once it does, expect the cost of it to rise…

Keith Adams


  1. A brilliant article my thoughts exactly. All very well Grant Shapps saying there is no fuel shortage so why is it not at the filling stations? This is the same man that says Smart Motorways are Smart and safe!!!!!!

    • As we type, more sections of the M4 are being SMARTENED. This morning I visited a friend – just a few miles away. En route I passed a very ‘full’ filling station, with cars blocking the road, queuing to get onto the forecourt.

    • Seriously, THERE IS, and NEVER WAS any fuel shortage, there was not even any driver shortage either, it was the press that blew this all up, the journo’s have so much to answer for over this, I know a few Taker drivers, and they mad some good money from this, but every single one said they have no idea why people are being so stupid, there was no shortage the week before, and there is no shortage now, the UK has the capapcity to produce enough fuel for 30% more vehicles than are currently on the road, and more than enough tankers and drivers to deliver it, so, it is just those MORONS that decided to full up their Carrier bags (yes that was caught on video someone doing that” Milk bottles, yes again, and more, just so that have that extra litre.

      If everyone just filled up as normal, there would have been no issues, because of those morons, I was not able to go and see my mother who had just been released from hospital after a major operation, because no garage local to me had diesel, in the end I was up at 4am one day just to go and get some, and after 20 garages, and about 40 miles, I got some, so filled up.

      The press makes it all up and expect to get away with it, which is why I no longer read those scandal rags or watch TV news, they tell so many lies, mislead and generally wind up the public…especally the BBC

      • Normally the government need these gullible morons as they make perfect voting fodder & don’t realise they are voting against their own interests most of the time.

        The main problem with this is they will occasionally go rogue as they believe anything in the media that has been blown out of proportion.

        Lucky for me my car was half full so I could ride it out until things returned to normal.

        While currently over a barrel by the Tories, the BBC is still far more believable than most of the tabloids.

  2. John Dupont : normal fuel supplies ARE at the filling stations . The point made is that people have been demanding fuel at, according to some reports today, 5 times the normal daily demand, so that tanks which would normally fulfil say 5 days’ demand, are being cleared out in one day . Shapps is quite correct

  3. Yes agree I have a HGV licence Driver CPC is another reason drivers left a pointless training exercise and foisted on us by the loony EU

  4. To be honest there is an HGV shortage on the continent. The stick plaster that was foreign drivers was peeled off with Brexit, with many deciding to go home, or retire like many Brits have during the pandemic. It’s much like the care industry, the government have just pushed the growing problem under the carpet.

    I’m lucky just popped to my local station and there was a small queue but they had a delivery and I now have the fuel that I need to get Norfolk n back. However when I was there, people were only filling up with about 10 quids worth of fuel!

  5. During the worst of the Pandemic last spring/summer in many parts of the world, many HGV including motor fuel drivers were laid off. Some found other jobs than driving, or with short haul, 9-5 work. HGT-motor fuel drivers need special certifications as they are transporting very hazardous goods. Even in the USA as in the UK, many young persons are not interested becoming or leaving the field of HGV drivers due to the long and sometimes odd hours, stress of driving on roads today, responsibility, tough working conditions and weak pay.

  6. Wasn’t it Germany’s greatest ever Chancellor Otto von Bismark who stated “Never believe anything in politics until it has been officially denied.” The hapless Grant Shapps has just proved his point.

    • He told the truth over this, there never was any shortage, the Government continues to get kicked over this, when in fact it was idiot people that just went out of their way to buy fuel when they did not need it, meaning that those that did, lost out, in the same way the idiots over bought in the first lock down, meaning some shortages of food items, when again, it WAS NOT NECESSARY.

  7. I can’t recall anyone being told to go home after 2016. Perhaps the author lives in another country, but in the UK anyone from the EU who was already resident in the country could simply stay on after Brexit. Besides: does the author know how many vacancies for HGV drivers there are in the EU and the US? In this respect, the article is a load of bollocks.

    • “simply stay on after Brexit” – er, no – this hopeless government made it a complicated and expensive exercise and quite a few people who had lived here a long time had great trouble providing the proofs required.

      • It wasn’t more expensive or complicated than in any other country in the world. (I’ve lived, studied and worked in 10 different countries in Europe and Asia). Even when we were still part of the EU, going to live in Italy or France was quite a bureaucratic obstacle course.

  8. I think the main issue here is media hype – they want to create negativity on everything and a good crisis is fun for them and makes easy reporting.

    There is a global HGV driver shortage and the use of cheap drivers from Eastern Europe has been used to keep wages artificially low in the UK (but high compared to say Romania or Bulgaria) removing the incentive for people to join the industry – this was unsustainable irrespective of Brexit

    Everyone just needs to take a deep breath and politicians need to be sensible on all sides – some hope

    • @ Andrew P, I was doing some shopping on Saturday morning and the tabloids had screaming headlines about a fuel shortage. No doubt people who buy The Sun and the Daily Mirror probably panicked and drove off to join a huge queue at their local filling station.

  9. In 1974s petrol shortages I remember having to drive to London for work. Most filling stations were limiting petrol to £1 – 2 max only. So I spent much of the trip topping up by small amounts off the motorway. Got there OK though with fuel to spare1

    It’s true with modern TV newsgathering & social media, false rumours and panic sets in so quick. The other night I drove to my local filling station just to put £20 in and was surprised to be the only customer… plenty of juice too.

    • My memory of that time – then living in Twickenham – was that our service stations were allowing something like £5 worth, no more, no less, to stop people queuing for stupidly small amounts or trying to fill jerrycans as well.

  10. I have seen a figure given of 40,000 HGV tests cancelled due to Covid, which must also have contributed to the shortage of drivers. But the easy headline is to blame Brexit and ignore other contributing factors. Bit life is never that black and white. The driver shortage is not limited to the UK. I have seen figures of 60,000 in Germany and 125,000 in Poland reported. I Belgian (IIRC) haulier was saying there was a shortage of Romanian HGV drivers. And so it goes on…

    • Driving tests persae were cancelled and there is a massive backlog. My friends husband is an driving test inspectors inspector (what a mouth full), however all DVLA test team staff have been asked to do the testing and they still have a massive backlog and that is just cars and bikes. However, 40,000 tests is just a drop in the ocean of how many HGV driving vacancies there are in the uk.

      • The point being that the backlog is but one of the contributing factors, as is Brexit / IR35 (according to some HGV drivers) / EU-wide shortage of drivers / Brexit etc etc etc

  11. I remember at the time of the 2000 protests it was said that there were too many self employed HGV drivers competing for work, I presume since then many have retired or else moved to other areas of work.

  12. One problem, that is under reported, is the delay in obtaining or renewing driving licences. I had my 5 year medical in July for my vocational licence, sent it off and have been waiting nearly two and a half months to have it back. I know there were no problems with the medical, but I have no way of proving this, so no chance of obtaining a job.

    • @ Gareth Cheeseman, I had a V5 issued to the wrong address due to an error at the dealership. I now have to wait six weeks to get a correct one. Also there is a long running industrial dispute at the DVLA which has seen strikes and delays to processing forms and sending out car tax demands.

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