The oil giant will restrict deliveries of petrol and diesel to its forecourts to ensure supplies do not run out.
BP‘s head of UK retail Hanna Hofer described the situation as “bad, very bad” and warned the Government it was important they understood the “urgency of the situation”.
Ms Hofer said the company had “two-thirds of normal forecourt stock levels required for smooth operations” and told ITV News the level is “declining rapidly”.
ExxonMobil-owned Esso said a “small number” of Tesco petrol forecourts have been hit by fuel supply shortages.
Labour’s Jim McMahon, Labour’s Shadow Transport Secretary described the situation as a “rapidly worsening crisis” and that the Government had “failed to heed the warnings of for a decade”.
He said “Sticking plaster solutions are not going to solve it. Ministers must take decisive steps now to tackle the 90,000 driver shortfall. If they fail to take action, the responsibility for every empty shelf, every vital medicine not delivered and every supplier not able to meet demand lies at the Conservatives’ door.”
When asked about the prospects of Britons “panic buying” fuel, the prime minister’s spokesman said “there is no shortage in fuel in the UK so people should continue to buy it as usual”.
The spokesman added: “Fuel, as in food, we have a very resilient and robust supply chain. People should continue to shop for fuel as usual”.
Under emergency plans BP will provide 80% of its normal service levels to 90% of its petrol stations, meaning that a number of locations will not be restocked for one and a half days each week.
Motorways will be prioritised and restocked as normal. Ms Hofer added that the next few weeks will be “really difficult”, but that fuel stocks should stabilise and start to rebuild at some point in October.
The company does not employ drivers directly but outsources to independent haulier Hoyer. The HGV sector has been struggling with recruitment in recent months with a combination of the Covid-19 pandemic and Brexit reducing the number of available drivers.
With test centres shut and many HGV drivers from the EU returning home during the pandemic, it has created a shortage of qualified drivers.
The issue has already hit supermarkets, with shelves half full and grocers forced to increase salaries and introduce signing on bonuses to fill gaps.
Calls from Morrisons and Ocado for the Government to add HGV drivers to its skills shortage jobs list, to allow EU workers to fill the shortfall, were investigated but not implemented following pressure from the Home Office. BP is said to have asked the Government for similar support temporarily.
However business minister Paul Scully told Sky News today that an amnesty on foreign immigration rules to boost driver numbers would not be a “panacea”.
Asked whether the Government could back a temporary amnesty for foreign workers to fill HGV driver vacancies, Mr Scully said: “This is why I started off talking about this being in other countries because actually there is no guarantee, if you have a shortage in Poland, you’ve got a shortage in Germany and other countries around the EU, there is no guarantee that actually if you start opening up a route, that actually people will come back in.
“Clearly we will look at all options in terms of short-term issues. The longer and medium term is something the sector will work through but we will help them do that by making sure we can get more HGV drivers in the pipeline.”
It has approximately 45 drivers coming through in training but is experiencing high rates of attrition, according to ITV News.
BP said in a statement: “We are experiencing fuel supply issues at some of our retail sites in the UK and unfortunately have therefore seen a handful of sites temporarily close due to a lack of both unleaded and diesel grades.
“These have been caused by delays in the supply chain, which has been impacted by industry-wide driver shortages across the UK, and we are working hard to address this issue.
“We continue to work with our haulier supplier to minimise disruption and to ensure efficient and effective deliveries to serve our customers. We apologise for any inconvenience caused.”
A spokesman for ExxonMobil , who operates Esso, said: “The majority of the 1,200 Esso branded sites in the UK are owned and operated by a number of independent retail companies – these companies are responsible for arranging supplies of Esso fuel to their sites.
“As regards our own operations, a small number of our 200 Tesco Alliance retail sites are impacted. We are working closely with all parties in our distribution network to optimise supplies and minimise any inconvenience to customers. We apologise to our customers for any inconvenience.”
Gordon Balmer, an executive director at the Petrol Retailers Association, which represents independent forecourts across the UK, said some sites are suffering from delays, particularly those in London and south-east England.
He said: “Like many industries, the retail fuels sector is under supply pressure from a lack of trained HGV drivers. At a PRA member event in the north last week, retailers with a wide variety of fuel brands confirmed there were no supply outages. But some sites are confirming delayed deliveries and so any issues appear confined to London and the South-East and appear temporary by nature.
“According to latest BEIS data, fuel demand is still only at 92% of pre-pandemic levels so we believe there should be ample stock available at refineries and delivery terminals throughout the UK. Cases of complete forecourt stockouts have been rare so the resilience of retail fuels is not in question. which is good news for the motorist.”
He recommended that motorists keep enough fuel in the tank to reach alternative filling stations in the “rare instance” that fuel is not available at the first one they visit.
RAC fuel spokesperson Simon Williams said: “Drivers should not be concerned about fuel supplies running low. There remains an abundance of forecourts with plenty of fuel to go around.”