Fuel shortages were secretly building at petrol stations three weeks before crisis, figures show

Our interactive map shows how stocks of petrol and diesel shrank first at forecourts in London and the South East before the problem spread across the rest of Britain.

Army tanker drivers are delivering supplies to petrol stations hit by the fuel crisis (Photo: NIKLAS HALLE’N/AFP via Getty Images)

Fuel shortages had been secretly building at filling stations for more than three weeks before becoming public and sparking panic-buying, new figures show.

Stocks of petrol and diesel held at forecourts had dwindled steadily from August 30, shrinking first in London and the South East before spreading to the rest of the country, the Government data reveals.

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And this region continues to be hardest hit by the tanker driver shortage, with the Petrol Retailers’ Association revealing that 13% of independent retailers in London and the South East were still dry yesterday.

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Gordon Balmer, its executive director, said: “Attempts by the Government to deal with this fuels crisis, now into its 14th day, have thus far had only limited success in London and the South East.

“Much more attention on this issue affecting this region is urgently needed.”

Experimental data released today by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) reveals that average stocks at British forecourts had been below pre-pandemic levels since May and had dwindled steadily from August 30.

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Supplies of petrol and diesel at the average filling station had fallen to just a third of capacity (33%) by September 18 - five days before forecourt closures came to public attention, sparking widespread panic-buying.

London felt the pinch first, with forecourt stocks falling to a third of capacity as early as September 10.

The data is based on end-of-day stock figures at about 4,500 filling stations, representing 80% of the market.

The Government has this week deployed almost 200 military tanker personnel, 100 of whom are drivers, to provide temporary support to relieve pressure on petrol stations and address the shortage of HGV drivers.

Announcing the move last weekend, Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said: “Thanks to the immense efforts of industry over the past week, we are seeing continued signs that the situation at the pumps is slowly improving.

“UK forecourt stock levels are trending up, deliveries of fuel to forecourts are above normal levels, and fuel demand is stabilising.”

A BEIS spokesperson added: “The Government and industry continue to work together closely to respond to the current situation and we encourage the public to buy fuel as normal.”

Meanwhile, fuel retailers are warning motorists of a price shock to come, as the cost of wholesale oil rockets.

A spokesperson for the Petrol Retailers’ Association, said: “With forecourt stocks low or non-existent, any new stock will be bought at the higher wholesale levels which will see pump prices rising by up to 3 pence per litre.”

The spokesman said such rises were not a result of profiteering by sellers but of global factors beyond their control.

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