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Something needs to change Boris! Hours-long fuel queues, food shortages and possible school closures

Boris Johnson has mobilised the army in case it's needed to help relieve the pressure on petrol stations across the country.

Thousands of petrol stations have run dry amid a national shortage caused by panic buying and a lack of truck drivers.

Hours-long queues of frustrated motorists are forming at the pumps each day, despite pleas from the government and the fuel companies to stay away and only buy petrol as needed.

The government and fuel industry insist the crisis will ease in the coming days. In a joint statement, the petrol companies - including BP, Shell and Esso - said there was "plenty of fuel" at the nation's refineries that merely needed to be delivered to stations.

Army drivers will be ready to help deliver petrol in the short term. A step Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng called "sensible" and "precautionary".

"The UK continues to have strong supplies of fuel," he continued. "However, we are aware of supply chain issues at fuel station forecourts and are taking steps to ease them."

"If required, the deployment of military personnel will provide the supply chain with additional capacity as a temporary measure to help ease pressures caused by spikes in localised demand for fuel."

Opposition Leader Keir Starmer has accused the government of allowing the crisis to "spiral out of control" despite "months of warnings" from the industry.

And the national supply chain shortage is not just affecting petrol.

In supermarkets across Britain, the number of shelves sitting bare is growing each week, with more and more products becoming unavailable.

A perfect storm of factors that's been brewing for months has struck the UK and the impacts could be devastating, lasting many months.

A crisis waiting to erupt

How does one of the world's wealthiest countries run short of food and fuel?

For one, demand for just about everything has surged since the end of Covid-19 restrictions as we emerge from extended lockdowns and begin enjoying life again with gusto.

Whether it's a boom in online shopping, a rush on restaurants, the reopening of pubs and cafes, or huge numbers of people hitting the road to holiday around the country, demand for food, road transportation services and petrol has exploded.

Secondly, at the same time, the ramifications of Brexit are being felt in a big way.

The free movement of EU citizens – and workers – into the country is now a thing of the past.

Conservative estimates indicate at least one million people have abruptly left the workforce as a result, predominantly in the services sector, creating a labour shortage in critical industries like road transportation, processing and handling, distribution and production.

Thirdly, there simply aren't enough people to drive the trucks that bring in and move around food, petrol and other goods.

Fourth, the pandemic also saw the suspension of public service operations like driver testing, so there's a backlog of would-be truck drivers waiting to take tests. Overly onerous infection control measures, such as regular testing and contact tracing, are turning others away, industry groups say.

And finally, on top of all of that, the economic impacts of Covid-19 forced a number of companies to downscale and lay off workers over the past 18 months.

As these combinations of factors make themselves felt and the public cottons on, panic ensues and people swarm shops and service stations to stock up.

There's now speculation that schools could be temporarily closed to reduce the number of people moving around and lower demand for petrol.

A brutal winter lies ahead

The country's retail industry lobby has warned there's just a week left to find enough truck drivers to save Christmas, otherwise widespread shortages over the festive season are inevitable.

Andrew Opie from the British Retail Consortium told Reuters supplies were ramped up at this time of the year to ensure enough food for the peak December period.

But with months of repeated warnings from supermarkets, farmers and processors have been largely ignored by the government, it could be too late to stockpile food and other goods.

In addition, the Road Haulage Association told Reuters there's a shortfall of 100,000 heavy goods vehicle drivers in the UK, meaning avoiding imminent disaster was highly unlikely.

Some employers are offering huge incentives for people to become truck drivers, with £2000 ($3907) sign-on bonuses and starting salaries of £70,000 ($136,700).

Paul Scully, the UK's Minister for Small Business, warned it was going to be "a really difficult winter for people".

In an interview with ITV last week, Scully said people shouldn't panic buy as it would only make the situation worse.

"We know this is going to be a challenge and that's why we don't underestimate the situation that we all find ourselves in," he said.

There's now speculation that members of the British military could be enlisted to drive trucks until the long-term workforce can be boosted.

Ian Wright, chief executive officer of the Food and Drink Federation, said the impacts currently being felt will only worsen unless "fact action is taken".

"We need the government urgently to conduct a full survey of the state of employment markets to gain an understanding of the most pressing issues," Wright said in a statement.

No end in sight

If all of that wasn't bad enough, the country is now also facing an inflation crisis, with the Bank of England warning the rate will climb beyond 4 per cent this year, which is double expectations.

Yael Selfin, chief economist at KPMG in the UK, told CNBC there was no quick fix to the supply crisis, with labour shortages taking six months to resolve.

"We are a little bit vulnerable as there's a lot of strain in the system already," Ms Selfin said.

"Any additional shock, like what we've just seen with gas prices, is just going to make it harder for businesses and households to absorb."


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