The government is considering temporary measures to fill the shortage of heavy-duty drivers, which is hurting a number of UK industries.
Number 10 insisted on Friday night that any measures introduced would be “very tight time-limited” amid reports that Boris Johnson has allowed ministers to relax UK immigration rules to allow more foreign drivers into the country.
While Downing Street has not confirmed whether any decisions have been made, Transport Minister Grant Shapps has previously promised to “move from heaven and earth” to resolve the situation.
The Financial Times and Telegraph reported that the Prime Minister has given ministers permission to temporarily lift visa restrictions for foreign drivers.
While the newspapers said that up to 5,000 temporary visas could be issued for heavy vehicle drivers, the Financial Times said that a similar number would be approved for Turkey as well. food especially processing workers in the poultry industry.
This came as the CBI urged ministers to set up a task force at the same level as the Cobra emergency committee to deal with supply issues, such as gasoline forecourt closures and emptying supermarket shelves.
And warnings were made that interruption of preparations for the Eid would be “inevitable” unless progress was made to fill the shortage of nearly 90,000 truck drivers.
Esso, BP and Tesco petrol forecourts were affected by difficulties in delivering petrol.
About 20 of its 1,200 gasoline forecourts have been shut down due to a lack of available fuel, with 50 to 100 plants impacted by at least one type of fuel loss, BP said.
ExxonMobil, owner of Esso, which operates the sites, said “a small number” of Tesco filling stations were also affected.
On Friday, EG Group, which has 341 petrol stations in the UK, said it was placing a £30 limit on customers “due to the unprecedented demand for fuel”.
Meanwhile, according to a survey by the Office for National Statistics, nearly one in six adults in the UK said they were unable to buy essential foodstuffs at some point in the past two weeks due to the unavailability of products.
A Downing Street spokesperson said: “We have ample fuel stocks in this country and the public must be reassured that there is no shortage of food.
“However, like countries around the world, we are experiencing a temporary shortage of Covid-related drivers required to move supplies across the country.
“We are looking at temporary measures to prevent any immediate problems, but the measures we put in place will certainly be time-limited.
“We are moving to a high-wage, high-skilled economy and businesses are hiring and education ensure long-term durability.
Despite chaotic scenes at gas stations across the country, the Minister of Transport has previously tried to deter drivers from buying gas in a panic.
Mr Shapps said on Friday that drivers should “continue as normal”.
“The recommendation would be to continue as normal, and that’s what BP says,” he told Sky News.
Queues began to form in front of some petrol stations in England on Friday morning.
Andrew Opie, director of food and sustainability at the British Retail Consortium, said: “HGV drives are the glue that holds our supply chains together.
“Without them, we cannot move goods from farms to warehouses and shops.
“Currently, the UK is facing a shortage of around 90,000 HGV drivers and consumers are ultimately hurt by the consequences.
“Unless a solution is found within the next 10 days, we will inevitably see significant disruptions by Christmas.”
On the BBC’s Today programme, Mr Shapps promised to do whatever it takes to ensure that petrol reaches drivers.
“I will move heaven and earth to do whatever it takes to ensure that trucks continue to transport our goods and services and oil across the country.”
But CBI chief executive Tony Danker said: “After speaking to hundreds of people business Leaders this week, it’s clear that there has been a complete mindset shift from growth to coping. This is now a major threat to our recovery and the Government needs to elevate its response to a new level of both speed and courage.
“The government is right to continue the pressure on companies to adapt and distrust long-term immigration, but temporary visas are the only way to alleviate shortages in critical skilled parts of the economy in weeks and months rather than years.
“Getting skills programs right away is key to ensuring these measures are only needed temporarily.”
“Establishing a crisis management task force to act quickly with both business and Government around the table will allow the Government to know much more about the nature and scale of the challenges; can formulate responses quickly; It can get the support of the Prime Minister and the Council of Ministers to take the necessary measures. We are ready to support the government in this regard.”