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Friday briefing: Fuel shortages add to winter woes

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Top story: petrol crisis felt across forecourts

Morning everyone. I’m Martin Farrer and these are the top stories today.

Three of the UK’s biggest operators of petrol stations have warned of fuel shortages at some forecourts due to a shortage of drivers, as businesses called on ministers to relax visa rules for foreign workers. BP said up to 100 of its forecourts were short of at least one grade of fuel, with several forced to close entirely. Esso said that a handful of its petrol stations operated alongside Tesco Express stores were affected, and the supermarket chain’s own sites are also suffering outages. The government insisted there was “no shortage of fuel”, but with energy prices already spiking and concerns about food supplies heading into winter, ministers face intense pressure to ease acute labour and supply chain shortages linked to Brexit and the pandemic. The Road Haulage Association said a “very short-term” measure would be to allow drivers onto the shortage occupation list and “seasonal visas” for foreign drivers.

Companies are finding it hard to attract drivers to a tough job that is rewarded relatively poorly, especially when supermarkets are offering £1,000 sign-on bonuses to new drivers. So although the fuel situation is not yet near the 70s rationing crisis, or the haulage strike of 2000, the government would be wise to be making contingency plans, writes economics editor Larry Elliott.

The £118 question – With many households facing a cost of living crisis this winter, Boris Johnson refused to answer when asked on his US trip whether he could live on the basic universal credit payment of £118 per week. Asked if the controversial cut to the benefit, coming into force on 6 October, risked becoming a political problem, Johnson said: “I have every sympathy for people who are finding it tough, I really, really do.” He said keeping the £20 increase introduced amid the coronavirus pandemic would cost too much.

Nessa arrest – A 38-year-old man has been arrested on suspicion of murdering primary school teacher Sabina Nessa, police said, as detectives also released images of a man they wish to speak to. The 28-year-old is suspected to have been killed as she walked through Cator park in Kidbrooke, south-east London, on what should have been a five-minute journey from her home to a pub last Friday evening. Her body was found in the park the following day. Police said the man was arrested in nearby Lewisham.

‘Change is coming’ – Young people will take to the streets today in more than 1,400 locations around the world to protest about climate change and with a message that “change is coming – from the streets”. Just weeks before Britain hosts the Cop26 summit in Glasgow, young people will gather in Parliament Square today joined by trade unions and environmental groups. In Germany, mass protests are planned in 420 towns and cities, and Greta Thunberg will address protesters in front of the Bundestag in Berlin. There are also major demonstrations planned in Mexico City, Bangladesh, South Africa, Canada, and Argentina.

Tipping point – Restaurant owners will be banned from taking customer tips and service charge payments from workers under legislation being introduced by the government five years after a ban was first proposed. The law, which is designed to help about 2 million waiting staff and other hospitality workers, follows a series of high-profile stories about companies deducting money from card payments intended for waiting and kitchen staff.

Facebook Twitter The Five Sisters of Kintail in Glen Shiel will be part of the rewilding project. Photograph: DEREKMcDOUGALL/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Going wild – A large swathe of the Scottish Highlands stretching between the west coast and Loch Ness is to be rewilded as part of a 30-year project to restore nature. The Affric Highlands initiative by the charity Trees For Life aims to increase connected habitats and species diversity over an area of 200,000 hectares (500,000 acres). Native wildlife set to benefit includes salmon, trout, ospreys and otters, as well as montane species such as golden eagles, red grouse, short-eared owls and mountain hares.

Today in Focus podcast

The Labour party meets this weekend in Brighton for its first in-person annual conference since Keir Starmer won the leadership. Jessica Elgot explains why it could define his future prospects.

Today in Focus Keir Starmer’s make or break conference Sorry your browser does not support audio – but you can download here and listen https://audio.guim.co.uk/2021/09/23-68322-20210924TIFpegasus.mp3 00:00:00 00:28:14

Lunchtime read: ‘We’re like Mork and Mindy’

Facebook Twitter Robert Plant and Alison Krauss in Nashville. Photograph: Alysse Gafkjen/The Guardian

Fourteen years after their Grammy-winning debut, Alison Krauss and Robert Plant have reunited – facing high expectations. They explain how the former Led Zeppelin frontman needed special permission to enter the US to finish recording Raise The Roof in Nashville, leaving their comfort zones with a “nuts but tasteful” all-star band, and how they work like “Mork and Mindy”.

Sport

As the USA and Europe lock horns in the Ryder Cup later today, visiting captain Pádraig Harrington is sending out Spanish duo Jon Rahm and Sergio García in the opening foursomes and insists his 12 players can triumph in hostile terrain. American star Brooks Koepka has hit back at questions about his commitment to the cause, and here’s a guide to the format and the course at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin. Football will have to play second fiddle to golf this weekend but here’s 10 things to look out for in the Premier League, and you can also find out what the heck is going at Derby County at the ever-brilliant Football Weekly pod.

It could be a very exciting climax in the County Championship with Warwickshire still able to claim the title if they can bowl Somerset out on the final day at Edgbaston. Lancashire, who beat Hampshire in a thriller yesterday, will be hoping they can’t. England captain Heather Knight struck a magnificent century in the fourth ODI at Derby, as her team overcame New Zealand’s total of 244 with three wickets left to seal a 3-1 series win with one game left to play. British heavyweight Anthony Joshua called his unbeaten opponent Oleksandr Usyk “a live bodybag” in final press conference yesterday before tomorrow’s showdown at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

Business

Kwasi Kwarteng has ruled out subsidies for large gas supply companies to swallow up smaller rivals struggling with the pricing crisis. It comes amid warnings from care homes that some could be forced to close if heating costs rise too much. Evergrande’s offshore investors are still in the dark about whether they will get their money back, and that holding pattern is reflected in FTSE100 futures showing a flat start today. The pound is on $1.372 and €1.169.

The papers

Facebook Twitter Guardian front page, Friday 24 September 2021 Photograph: The Guardian

The possible fuel shortages dominate most of the front pages with the Telegraph splash head saying “Alarm as ⁦BP⁩ begins petrol rationing”, and the Times going on “Don’t panic, urges No 10 after ⁦BP⁩ cuts fuel delivery”. The Guardian says “Warning of fuel shortages amid supply chain crisis” and the Mail has “Now we’re running on empty” and the Sun has “We’re running on empty”. The i headline is “Fuel rationed as UK’s petrol stations hit by shortage of lorry drivers”, but the Express finds that elusive positive angle: “Keep calm… and we can all carry on shopping”. The Mirror leads on the Sabina Nessa story: “Murdered on her way to first date”, and the FT has “BoE predicts inflation to pass 4% as interest rate rises move ‘closer’”.

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