Competition law suspended to battle petrol panic buying

Competition law has been suspended in an attempt to get a grip on the fuel shortages being driven by panic-buying motorists, ministers have announced.

Cars queue for fuel at a Sainsbury's petrol station in Camberley, Surrey.

The decision comes after Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng met with oil companies and retailers on Sunday to address another day of continued queuing for the pumps, with thousands of petrol stations cross the UK running dry.

A scuffle at a north London petrol station was posted on social media as motorists waited to fill up their tanks in a bout of “frenzied buying” sparked after concerns from BP that the HGV driver shortage could impact its ability to keep up with fuel deliveries were leaked to the media.

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Mr Kwarteng has opted to temporarily exempt the industry from the Competition Act to allow the industry to share information so it can target areas where fuel supply is running low.

The triggering of what is known as the Downstream Oil Protocol comes as the Petrol Retailers Association (PRA) warned that as many as two-thirds of its membership of nearly 5,500 independent outlets were out of fuel, with the rest of them “partly dry and running out soon”.

Mr Kwarteng said: “We have long-standing contingency plans in place to work with industry so that fuel supplies can be maintained and deliveries can still be made in the event of a serious disruption.

“While there has always been and continues to be plenty of fuel at refineries and terminals, we are aware that there have been some issues with supply chains.

“This is why we will enact the Downstream Oil Protocol to ensure industry can share vital information and work together more effectively to ensure disruption is minimised.”

In a separate joint statement from the likes of Shell, ExxonMobile and Greenergy, the industry reiterated that the pressures on supply were being caused by “temporary spikes in customer demand, not a national shortage of fuel”.

PRA chairman Brian Madderson told the BBC the shortages were down to “panic buying, pure and simple”, with priority by oil companies being afforded to keeping motorway service station pumps topped up.

The intervention comes less than 24 hours after the Government announced a temporary visa scheme that will see 5,000 foreign HGV drivers and 5,500 poultry workers allowed into the UK on three-month contracts up to Christmas Eve in an attempt to keep supermarket shelves stocked with turkeys and tackle fuel delivery difficulties.

But retailers warned that the decision to relax immigration rules to fix supply chain issues was “too little, too late” to keep shop shelves fully stocked this Christmas.

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