THE body representing two-thirds of the UK’s petrol stations has warned the majority are dry or running out because of panic-buying. 

The Petrol Retailers Association (PRA) also said the UK Government’s proposed response to the “really serious problems” would take weeks to make a big difference.

PRA chair Brian Madderson said that, after canvassing a variety of his members, he estimated “between 50 per cent and 90% of their forecourts are currently dry, and those that aren’t dry are partly dry and running out soon”. 

He added ministers were “loath to recognise” the true nature of the problems at the pumps.

The stark message was in marked contrast to the upbeat tone struck by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps this morning, as he insisted there was “no shortage of fuel”.

With a nationwide shortage of lorry drivers causing some garages to close their pumps or ration fuel, the Government is to issue 5,000 short term visas for HGV drivers.

The move caused a cabinet split, as with most drivers expected to come from the EU it is backtracking on the end of freedom of movement brought about by Brexit.

However there is scepticism that with a driver shortage on the continent as well, few EU drivers will want to return to the UK for a scheme that ends on Christmas eve.

A million letters are also being sent  to UK drivers who hold a heavy goods vehicle licence to encourage them back into the industry, which has warned for months of a shortage because of retirement, tax changes, pay and conditions, Brexit and a lack of new drivers.

The UK is also issuing 5,500 temporary visas for poultry workers to help cope with extra demand in the run-up to Christmas.

Mr Shapps told the BBC's Andrew Marr show said that a shortage of HGV drivers was "not anything new" and blamed "irresponsible briefing" to the media by the Road Haulage Association (RHA) for sparking panic-buying.

He said: “There is plenty of fuel, it’s just about the panic buying which is preventing it from being available sometimes immediately, as you want it.

“We’re seeing these queues which don’t need to be there.”

Rod McKenzie, managing director of policy and public affairs at the RHA, said the allegation that he had behind the briefing was “nonsense”.

Speaking later on Radio 4’s The World This Weekend, Mr Madderson said the Government’s new steps would not address immediate problems.

He said: “Those measures s introduced by the Government this weekend are not ultra-short term. We might see benefits of them later in the autumn as the drivers come across and start to work, but in the very short-term this panic-buying has caused really serious problems.

“I’ve talked to a lot of our members this morning. They serve the main roads, the rural areas, the urban roads, and anywhere between 50 per cent and 90% of their forecourts are currently dry, and those that aren’t dry are partly dry and running out soon. 

“We have seen another phenomenon, which is that the oil companies, perhaps rightly, have been giving motorway service areas priority delivery and so people are now flocking onto motorways wherever they’ve got one nearby and buying fuel from the motorways.

“One of them mentioned to me that yesterday they had a 500% increase in demand compared to a week ago, which is quite extraordinary.”

He agreed the level of forecourts drying out was “extraordinary” and added that it was “something that the Government, obviously, are loath to recognise”.

He went on: “There is plenty of fuel in this country but it is in the wrong place for the motorist.

“It’s still in the terminals and the refineries, and the amount they can now ship into and deliver to the forecourts is limited by two things.

“One, the availability of the hardware, the tankers themselves. These are specialist tankers able to deliver in those big trucks a wide variety of fuels to the forecourts.

“There is a finite number of those, and there is obviously a finite number of trained drivers, and that has been the problem, that that number of finite number of drivers has been reduced.”

James Withers, chief executive of Scotland Food & Drink, said the visa changes felt “more like an attempt to fix bad headlines than fix the actual problem”.

He said: “We have been calling for emergency visas for weeks, to avoid the collapse of some food supply chains. Warnings about empty shelves have been sounded since the summer.

 “Whilst recognition of pressures in the haulage and poultry sector is welcome, this is a problem throughout the food supply chain and I seriously doubt that 10,000 three-month visas are going to cut it. It may help the driver situation a little but it won’t address the chronic staff shortage in food production.

“What is frustrating is that this move to offer extra visas has felt increasingly inevitable for weeks, if not months. Yet, there hasn’t been action until even more gaps appeared on supermarket shelves and cars started queuing for fuel.  At this stage, my instinct is that this is too little, too late to make a real difference to the Christmas trade.”