Photo: © Copyright Nigel Mykura

War of words as RHA furiously rebuffs claims it leaked info on fuel supply issues

After being blamed for sparking panic buying by ministers, the Road Haulage Association has furiously denied claims that it leaked details of a meeting in which concerns over fuel supply were raised. On Sunday, both the Daily Mail and the Daily Express said that ministers blamed Rod McKenzie, the RHA's Managing Director of Policy & Public Affairs, for leaking information that caused panic buying. Both papers smeared McKenzie and suggested that he deliberately sparked panic buying because he is ex-BBC and a “remainer". However, McKenzie did not even attend the meeting, while the RHA's Duncan Buchanan, who was at the meeting, denies leaking any information whatsoever.

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The meeting in question took place last Thursday and details of it were initially leaked to Joel Hills of ITV News, who revealed that BP’s retail head had told ministers that the company had “two thirds of normal forecourt stock levels required for smooth operations” and that the level is “declining rapidly”.

ITV News also published the following statement from BP on Thursday:

“We are experiencing fuel supply issues at some of our retail sites in the UK and unfortunately have therefore seen a handful of sites temporarily close due to a lack of both unleaded and diesel grades. These have been caused by delays in the supply chain, which has been impacted by industry-wide driver shortages across the UK and we are working hard to address this issue. We continue to work with our haulier supplier to minimise disruption and to ensure efficient and effective deliveries to serve our customers. We apologise for any inconvenience caused.”

The situation arguably wasn’t all that different to what happened in July, when BP had to close some its petrol stations due to supply chain issues. However, unlike in June, BP’s announcement last Thursday quickly sparked panic buying.

Many blame the mainstream press for hyping up the shortages. For example, on Friday morning, before the panic buying had even started, the Daily Mail ran with the headline “Now we’re running on empty”. A day later, the paper’s headline read “It’s panic at the pumps”, while the Daily Mirror went with the headline “10 days to save xmas”.

However, others point towards a lack of confidence in the government as the problem. Despite Transport Secretary Grant Shapps appearing on television on multiple occasions to stress there was no need to panic, many motorists decided to panic buy anyway. That then created a domino effect that made the situation worse.

The RHA also stressed there was no need to panic, as this Tweet shows:

Despite this, on Sunday two major UK newspapers ran with a story that blamed the RHA’s Rod McKenzie for the panic buying.

The Mail on Sunday’s report claimed that a senior Government source had said the following:

“McKenzie will have been aware of Ms Hofer’s [representative of the company who transports fuel to BP]  comments and had every incentive to weaponise them. The RHA leak every meeting they have with us. They have a rap sheet as long as their arm. McKenzie is just a moaning Remainer and he and the RHA are entirely responsible for this panic and chaos. We will deal with them when this is over.”

During an appearance on Sky News yesterday, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps suggested similar, but did not go as far as to name any particular person or organisation:

“There was a meeting which took place about 10 days ago, a private meeting in which one of the haulage associations decided to leak the details to media, and that has created, as we have seen, quite a large degree of concern as people naturally react to those things.”

The smear campaign against the RHA then sparked a furious reaction from the organisation, who published a statement denying the claims on its website:

Firstly, Rod McKenzie was not in the meeting where the BP issue was discussed. Secondly, he is not the source of the leak.  The first he heard of the comments was when journalists rang him asking for comment after ITV News story had been broadcast. He was not, as the Government source claimed, “aware of the comments” and certainly did not “weaponise” them in subsequent TV interviews. Indeed he repeatedly stressed the need not to panic buy and that there were adequate fuel stocks. It is also completely untrue to say that the “RHA leaks every meeting we have with them” . The RHA believes this disgraceful attack on a member of its staff is an attempt to divert attention away from their recent handling of the driver shortage crisis.

Photo: © Copyright Nigel Mykura and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence