The government’s reserve tanker fleet has been deployed to help tackle the fuel supply crisis at UK petrol stations, as soldiers train to join the distribution effort within days.

The business secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng, said the government was sending out the civilian-driven fleet on Wednesday afternoon. The reserve fleet numbers 80 vehicles, according to a 2019 assessment.

Kwarteng added that 150 soldiers were being mobilised to help boost supplies at forecourts hit by panic buying. The troops are HGV qualified but need extra training to enable them to drive huge fuel tankers.

The business secretary said the fuel shortages situation was stabilising, and urged drivers to return to their normal buying habits.

“We are now seeing signs that the situation at the pumps has begun to improve with more stations getting more fuel,” Kwarteng tweeted. “The sooner we can all return to our normal buying habits, the sooner the situation will return to normal.”

The Petrol Retailers Association (PRA), which represents two-thirds of UK filling stations, also said the fuel crisis was easing. Its executive director, Gordon Balmer, said: “There are encouraging signs that the crisis at the pumps is easing, with forecourts reporting that they are taking further deliveries of fuel.

“Only 27% of PRA members have reported being out of fuel today, and with regular restocks taking place, we are expecting to see the easing continue over the next 24 hours.”

Responding to videos and images that have emerged of violence at petrol stations, Balmer added: “We are extremely disappointed to hear many forecourt staff are experiencing a high level of both verbal and physical abuse, which is completely unacceptable.”

Sir Keir Starmer kicked off his leader’s speech at Labour’s annual conference in Brighton by addressing the fuel crisis, saying: “If you go outside and walk along the seafront, it won’t be long before you come to a petrol station which has no fuel. Level up? You can’t even fill up.

“Doesn’t that just tell you everything about this government? Ignoring the problem, blaming someone else, then coming up with a half-baked solution. Why do we suddenly have a shortage of HGV drivers? Why is there no plan in place?”

Measures the government has taken so far to try to ease the shortages include suspending competition law to allow oil companies to share information about fuel supply; offering 5,000 temporary work visas to foreign fuel tanker and food lorry drivers until Christmas; and unveiling plans to speed up the process of obtaining an HGV driver license.

The Department for Transport has also written nearly 1m letters to existing HGV drivers to encourage them back into the industry, and plans to train 4,000 others.

However, despite attempts to depict the crisis as fizzling out, a government source said on Wednesday morning that just 16% of all petrol stations were fully supplied with fuel, compared with 10% at the weekend – in normal times 40% of petrol stations are fully supplied.

The RAC motoring group warned that fuel prices could rise to record levels even if the crisis ends. It predicted that average prices could hit 143p per litre for petrol and 145p per litre for diesel in the next few weeks, up from the current level of 135p per litre for petrol and 138p per litre for diesel. The highest average price for petrol is 142p per litre, which was recorded in April 2012.

Extracted in full from: Fuel crisis: UK government mobilises reserve tanker fleet and army | Supply chain crisis | The Guardian