LONDON – British energy firms are rationing supplies of gasoline and closing some pumps – the latest in a string of shortages that have seen McDonald's take milkshakes off the menu, KFC run short of chicken and gaps appear on supermarket shelves.
A big factor behind the problems is a lack of truck drivers. The U.K. is short tens of thousands of haulers, as factors including Brexit and the novel coronavirus pandemic converge to create a supply-chain crunch.
Officials urged motorists not to panic-buy gasoline after BP and Esso shut a handful of stations because there were not enough trucks to get gas to the pumps.
“The advice would be to carry on as normal,” Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said Friday.
The trucking industry warns things are anything but normal, and is pressing the government to loosen immigration rules and recruit more drivers from Europe to avert Christmas shortages of turkeys and toys.
The government is resisting that move, and scrambling to lure more British people into truck driving, long viewed as an underpaid and underappreciated job.
“Driving isn't seen as a 21st-century sexy vocation,” said Laurence Bolton, managing director of the National Driving Centre, a school for truck drivers in the London suburb of Croydon.
But that is starting to change. Bolton's school has seen a 20% increase in applicants since the U.K.'s pandemic restrictions eased earlier this year, with bus drivers, laid-off hospitality workers and even former airline pilots seeking to retrain as truckers, a suddenly in-demand and increasingly well-paid occupation.
“It opens up the opportunities,” said 31-year-old Stephen Thrower, who works as a van driver but is training on trucks. “It's more of a job for life.”
Countries including the United States and Germany are also facing a driver shortage. But the U.K.'s problem has been worsened by Brexit.