A temporary visa scheme to fix the lorry driver shortage is expected to be announced over the weekend but it has been met with both frustration and relief by industry figures.
Downing Street sources said the scheme, which reports suggest will temporarily lift visa restrictions for foreign drivers, is to be a “short-term solution” to ease pressure on deliveries in the run-up to Christmas.
The Financial Times and the Telegraph have reported up to 5,000 temporary visas could be granted for HGV drivers.
A fuel crisis has been sparked with scenes of lengthy queues at petrol stations after a shortage of HGV drivers forced some fuel retailers to shut their pumps and ration sales.
This is on top of problems with supermarket supplies because of a lack of lorry drivers with fears Christmas shopping could be hindered without action.
Experts suggest the industry is short of about 90,000 drivers.
The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) said there was “huge relief” at the prospect of a softening of policy on foreign workers being allowed into the UK to mitigate the issue.
Director general Tony Danker told BBC Breakfast: “Hopefully it is going to happen and it is a huge relief.
“We’ve been calling for it for three months.
“We could see this problem coming and more problems coming, and so it’s a shame the Government needed queues at the pumps to move, but move I hope they have and it will help.”
One freight transport boss was sceptical about whether the shortages being experienced in the sector would be resolved by relaxing immigration rules.
Toby Ovens, managing director of Broughton Transport Solutions, asked on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme whether such a scheme could help alleviate the vacancies, Mr Ovens said: “No, I think a lot of what we’re seeing at the minute is down to essentially the driver wages.
“Margins in haulage are very tight and the reality is the money isn’t there to pay the increased wages without substantial price increases to customers.”
Mr Ovens said he did not believe Brexit had been a factor in the haulage sector’s problems, with the improvement in living standards in eastern European countries – where lorry drivers have tended to hail from in recent years – meaning people are choosing to remain with their families rather than come to the UK for work.
People have been spotted filling up jerry cans with petrol in pictures being circulated on social media.
Esso, BP and Tesco forecourts have been affected by challenges getting petrol deliveries.
The president of the AA says panic-buying rather than supply chain issues is driving the shortage of fuel at some petrol stations.
Edmund King said the problem should pass in a matter of days if drivers just stick to filling up when they need it, adding “there is plenty of fuel at source”.
Just been on @BBCBreakfast trying to reassure drivers there is no shortage in petrol or diesel at source. Please stick to normal filling patterns and this will be temporary blip as new supplies delivered every 24 to 48 hours. pic.twitter.com/1dFSr9gmUA
— Edmund King OBE (@AAPresident) September 25, 2021