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…