U.K. Could Relax Visas, Bring In Soldiers to Fix Driver Shortage
The U.K. is not ruling out relaxing immigration rules for truck drivers or even deploying the military, after a nationwide shortage forced some gas stations to close.
The government is “moving heaven and earth” to tackle the problem, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps told BBC Radio on Friday. “We will do whatever is required in order to make sure there are sufficient drivers.”
A lack of drivers has already left supermarkets around the U.K. unable to fill their shelves. Britain is also suffering a gas and power supply crisis that’s putting companies out of business and threatening consumers with a hike in bills.
Asked specifically whether soldiers could drive fuel trucks if supplies continued to be hit, Shapps told BBC Breakfast: “With regards to things like whether there’s a role for the military, obviously if there is, if that can actually help we will bring them in.”
There would be “technicalities”, however, as to whether the military could “immediately switch over to commercial trucks” so there could be other roles for them on driver testing and training, Shapps added.
“I am ruling nothing out,” he said.
BP Plc, the second-largest fuel retailer in the U.K., said it was shutting some gas stations due to a lack of truck drivers. Shapps said this totalled five as of Thursday night. Exxon Mobil Corp. also said that a “small number” of the 200 sites it operates for the supermarket Tesco Plc have been affected.
Shapps said he is open to adding truck drivers to a special visa program to ease the pressure -- a move that business groups have been pushing on for weeks. But he warned he didn’t want to do anything that would “undercut the marketplace.”
The “principal bottleneck”, Shapps told the BBC, was making sure drivers got the training tests they needed after many were cancelled during the coronavirus crisis.
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