The government has suspended a competition law to allow fuel producers and suppliers to target deliveries to the areas hit hardest by the fuel shortage. The suspension of the rule allows firms to share data more easily, so they can prioritise delivery of fuel to places that need it the most.

The announcement follows a meeting between Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng and senior executives from the fuel industry, at which supply chain issues at petrol stations were discussed. As a result, Kwarteng has agreed to implement a measure that temporarily exempts the industry from the Competition Act 1998 for the purpose of sharing information and optimising supply.

Known as The Downstream Oil Protocol, the measure is designed to let the government work “constructively” with fuel producers, suppliers, hauliers and retailers in a bid to improve the situation, which has seen petrol stations run dry and long queues at retailers with fuel to sell. The Department for Transport says the new measures should ensure “disruption is minimised as far as possible”.

Drivers filling up at Shell petrol station in Portsmouth UK

Kwarteng said the supply at refineries was plentiful, but there were issues with distribution that led to shortages at certain retailers. The Business Secretary also said the contingency plan would help companies share “vital” information, to cut shortages as soon as possible.

“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,” he said. “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. We thank HGV drivers and all forecourt staff for their tireless work during this period.”

Audi refuelling at petrol station

In a joint statement, industry organisations including Shell, ExxonMobil and UK Petroleum Industry Association (UKPIA) said the meeting with Kwarteng was “reassuring”.

“We are in regular contact with Government ministers and policy officials and it was reassuring to meet with the Business Secretary again on Sunday evening and discuss further action,” read the statement. “We will continue to work closely in partnership over this period with local and national government, and want to reassure the public that the issues that have arisen are due to temporary spikes in customer demand, not a national shortage of fuel.”

The relaxation of the law also follows measures announced over the weekend, which aim to reduce the ongoing HGV driver shortage partly to blame for problems with fuel deliveries. Chief among the measures are an immediate increase in testing, short-term visas for foreign HGV drivers and new “skills bootcamps” designed to train up to 3,000 new HGV drivers.