There is no fuel shortage in Britain – but there are not enough drivers to get petrol and diesel from distribution centres to forecourt pumps.
Industry insiders say roadworks on the M27 are also delaying drivers delivering to forecourts from Hamble and Fawley putting pressure on their time-limited shifts.
The chaos yesterday was the latest flashpoint in a national HGV driver crisis caused by the ‘perfect storm’ of Brexit, Covid-19, an aging workforce and the job having poor PR.
Drivers were sitting in 24C heat yesterday on the Eastern Road queuing to get into the Shell garage at Farlington amid panic buying.
Four BP garages in Bedhampton, Emsworth, Portchester and Portsmouth shut due to a lack of fuel arriving – but queues elsewhere spiralled.
One Portsmouth MP warned the army could be drafted in to drive tankers in an emergency, while another said a minister should be appointed to take charge.
Graham Truckel, sales manager at 2MV Logistics in Drayton, Portsmouth, said the driver shortage had ‘absolutely reached a critical stage’.
‘It’s worrying in terms of other shortages might be on the horizon,’ he said.
‘Businesses are going to start standing still, not just ours, but others. They can’t get drivers and products they want to sell.’
It comes as the Office for National Statistics found one in six adults in Britain were not able to buy essential food items at some point during the past two weeks, due to products not being available.
A survey of 3,500 people between September 8 and 19 found 18 per cent of people were not able to find essential foods on a regular basis.
Meanwhile the British Retail Consortium warned disruption to festive preparations will be ‘inevitable’ if progress is not made in 10 days to solve the national shortfall of around 90,000 lorry drivers.
Mr Truckel told The News his logistics company is unable to take on new work it wants - and has the vehicles for - due to the lack of drivers.
Ageing drivers are retiring, Covid and Brexit has seen European drivers return home to families, and a Covid backlog in tests is still being worked through.
Mr Truckel said his staff are well looked after but other drivers have not had good conditions, and the job is seen as unattractive.
His youngest driver is in their 40s, with no-one younger coming through the ranks.
He said: ‘Everything that is bought by a consumer, whether it be a shop or petrol station, is delivered by a truck so in that regard you could almost say everything that is consumable is going to be affected.
‘In the worst case scenario it could affect anything that needs to be delivered.’
Mr Truckel said shortages remain such a problem that not even temporary or agency drivers can be found.
Portsmouth North MP Penny Mordaunt said the rush on fuel yesterday was inevitable despite transport secretary Grant Shapps’ appeal for calm.
She said: ‘This situation is a complete pain and worry for so many who rely on their cars.
‘While people have been told there is no need to panic but inevitably people do.
‘Government and industry need to work together to fill driver shortages.
‘There are enough qualified people and there needs to be a clear plan to recruit and retain people.’
Ms Mordaunt said the army could be brought in if the crisis hits an emergency. She said: ‘In emergency cases Op Escalin can be triggered to backfill tanker driver shortages.’
Portsmouth South MP Stephen Morgan said panic buying ‘needs to stop’ but government should have acted sooner.
He said: ‘The industry has been clear a hurried Brexit deal has played its part in this, but government inaction to address an ageing HGV driver workforce with low wages and difficult working conditions has created a perfect storm.
‘It’s no surprise now we are seeing this shortage and the scenes at local petrol stations.’
Mr Morgan wants a minister appointed by Boris Johnson to take control.
He added: ‘The prime minister must get a grip of this crisis and appoint a minister to work across government and come up with a clear plan with businesses and unions to improve wages and conditions in key sectors.
‘Our city and the wider country needs certainty, not more dither and delay.’