'Panic-buying is crippling us' - petrol station owner urges motorists to think before they refuel
- Credit: Highlands/David Hatton
An owner of petrol garages - including Greenfields along A505 between Royston and Baldock - has spoken about what the current fuel crisis is like for those the other side of the pumps, and has urged people to think before they panic-buy.
Tom Highland - of family firm Highland Group - which also runs fuelling stations at Potton, and Caldecote and Bluntisham in South Cambs - told this newspaper about his experience during the current fuel crisis, that has seen panic-buying close refuelling stations up and down the country.
Tom said: "I've got four sites, all BP - none have fuel, I haven't even heard when we will get fuel. Our busiest stations are on auto-order and we get told eight to ten hours beforehand when we can expect fuel.
"We had a delivery on Friday - we sold 44,000 litres - double what we would sell normally. From 10am Saturday until now we've not had any fuel - and there's no delivery planned.
"There isn't a fuel shortage, there's a lorry driver shortage and it's been going on for about six months and we've all been managing.
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"Drivers have been doing overtime and you might have the odd site which runs out of unleaded for five hours and has to use ultimate unleaded - that kind of stuff.
"When it came out in the national press on Thursday, everyone went mental. We've had fights on the forecourt, we've had staff getting abuse - people are effing and blinding at them, we've had people move barriers and take covers off trying to get fuel out of tanks.
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"Petrol station staff are not classed as skilled workers, but through coronavirus lockdowns we've stayed open even though we were losing money - because we stayed open for emergency services and things like that.
"Staff mucked in and got on with it while everyone else stayed at home.
"Everyone is now panic-buying, so we are rushed off our feet. Staff can literally only do their best - it's not our fault we haven't got any fuel. When you see staff getting abused or hear stories about the way staff are being treated it does p*** you off - no-one deserves that.
"On Friday we had two staff on at the A505 site, who served 1,600 customers. When we closed at 10pm - we had a little bit of fuel left, but they couldn't even shut down. When they said 'we are closing now' because our pumps close off at a certain time, all they got was abuse and it's not on.
"For me as an owner, these last few days I am losing thousands. Yes, people will say I had a good Friday, but for three days I've taken nothing across four sites. I'm six grand out of pocket."
"I am no expert, but from what I hear this is down to four things - Brexit, coronavirus and there were a lack of tests being done last year, for me personally I think this issue has been creeping up on us for years.
"The driving conditions in the UK are appalling compared to what they're like in Europe. The only thing we had going for us is we had some sort of tax advantage where European drivers could earn good money driving in the UK
"Now they earn the same money in Europe and can go home to their families at the end of the day, and the driving conditions are so much better.
"The government don't class lorry drivers as a skilled job when without them and their deliveries everything shuts down, so it just shows how out of touch they are.
"I put in for permission to build a lorry park on the Greenfields land on the A505, with showering facilities and café facilities just for lorry drivers. You try and get permission for anything like that and it's frowned upon. Because it's to do with fuel people don't want it, but people don't think about how much they rely on these drivers and what they do."
Tom joined the family business eight years ago - and now lives in Caldecote, South Cambridgeshire. He said he doesn't know when his sites will be getting fuel.
He said: "Panic-buying has crippled us. I have got off the phone with my BP there, and he said they are delivering at maximum capacity they are prioritising main roads, even with them delivering round the clock it's going to take a while.
"If you're low on fuel and you want to fill up because you do a lot of driving, that's fine. I always fill up when I run it down because I do a lot of miles.
"Those who maybe do a school run and get through a tank in two weeks or more, for them to fill up their cars is very unnecessary. And people who, as well as filling up their car, are there filling up jerry cans to stock pile are an issue.
"The driver thing has been going on for six months. If the media hadn't announced this to everyone, people would've been none the wiser and could carry on as they were. My personal opinion is perhaps it's a political thing to maybe give the government a kick up the bum, as the hauliers were getting annoyed."
Tom is urging motorists to think twice before they head to the fuel pumps.
He said: "I just want people to think about that they need. If you're getting much more than what you need it's all right for you. But when you call an ambulance or need a fire crew because your house is on fire and they can't get to you, you've only got yourselves to blame."