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Buy fuel as normal, says Association of Fleet Operators

Fleets and drivers are being urged to buy fuel as normal and not follow others in panic-buying after the long queues at petrol stations over the weekend.

Fuel pumps

The Petrol Retailers Association said it was watching carefully for a possible easing of demand and normalising of forecourt stocks over the coming days

Last week saw a “handful” of BP, Tesco and Esso petrol stations close due to the HGV driver shortage and a lack of deliveries. But heavy media reporting and rumours of rationing led to a weekend of panic-buying by concerned motorists. That’s despite the Government having said “there is no shortage of fuel in the UK” and urging people to “continue to buy fuel as normal”.

Since then, the fuel industry has said that pressures on supply have been caused by “temporary spikes in customer demand – not a national shortage of fuel”, as outlined in a joint statement from companies including Shell, ExxonMobil and Greenergy.

Now, fleets and drivers are being urged to play their part by not joining in the panic buying.

Paul Hollick, chair of the Association of Fleet Professionals, said: “It’s understandable fleets and drivers will worry about the reports that are being seen in the media, and also by the more close-to-home signs of queuing at some service stations, but our advice is very much not to panic.

“If you don’t need fuel immediately and join those queues, you will probably only make the situation worse because there is enough petrol and diesel, just a problem with distribution that should hopefully be largely resolved within a matter of days. We don’t want to see a return to 2001 when panic buying was as much an issue as the fuel shortages themselves. As much as possible, everyone should just follow normal fuel buying patterns.”

Panic buying expected to calm down soon

The Government is already taking action on the issue – it’s outlined that it will suspend competition law to allow oil firms to work together to target fuel deliveries at petrol stations.

But it’s said there are no plans to bring in the Army to help with deliveries, as things are expected to calm down.

The Petrol Retailers’ Association – the trade body for independent forecourts – has also said the closures at some fuel stations have been in part due to “unusual buying patterns”.

Gordon Balmer, PRA executive director, continued: “It is unlikely that the vehicles filled over the weekend will need refuelling again soon. As a result, we will watch carefully for a possible easing of demand and normalising of forecourt stocks over the coming days.

“The PRA is in constant contact with the Government and we are speaking to multiple Government departments attempting to resolve this issue.”

The AA has also urged drivers NOT to top up ‘just in case’ as it also said the situation should resolve itself soon.

A spokesman said: “We would have thought that some of the pressure should be lifting from forecourts. Once the private car owners has a full tank, that gives 300-400 miles of driving. That will hopefully give the industry a chance to catch up.

“Business drivers will be different but we are hopeful that re-supply will start to restore forecourt stocks.”

Fuel firms such as BP have said they are working fast to deal with petrol station closures and are prioritising motorway service stations.

The AA has also responded to drivers’ reports of rising fuel prices – data from Experian Catalist shows that petrol prices yesterday were up 1.03p per litre to 136.69ppl since a week ago while diesel was up 1.36ppl to 138.58ppl.

The AA added: “There are reports of even higher prices in places but this follows entirely the usual pattern whenever there is panic buying.

“Retailers individually increase the price to a) try to deter those topping up their tanks unnecessarily, b) try to recover some of the lost income from drivers buying fuel only and not shopping within the store.

“The question then is if and how quickly those higher margins fall away.”

While wholesale petrol prices on Friday reached 44.5p a litre, this is still below the 45p that led to the eight-year highs prior to last week.

And although rationing has now been introduced at some petrol stations – including the 389 operated by EG Group – the AA spokesman also said this was a pre-emptive move by firms to counter the panic buying, as it “normally dials down the frenzy but it can put shop staff in a difficult position as some customers try their luck or get argumentative”.

Drivers have also been warned about a dramatic rise in misfuelling in recent days.

Edmund King, AA president, said: “Drivers also need to be careful because this weekend we have seen a dramatic rise in misfuelling (putting in the wrong fuel) compared to last weekend. This in turn unnecessarily reduces the fuel available as the whole tank has to be drained before refilling with the correct fuel. AA patrols are still on hand and able to service our members as usual, so we can keep drivers out on the road.”

For more of the latest industry news, click here.

Natalie Middleton

Natalie has worked as a fleet journalist for nearly 20 years, previously as assistant editor on the former Company Car magazine before joining Fleet World in 2006. Prior to this, she worked on a range of B2B titles, including Insurance Age and Insurance Day.

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