The last quarter of 2005 was one of the worst periods ever for fuel deliveries to retailers, according to PRA director Ray Holloway.

“There were complaints all over the UK about fuel delivery service,” he said. “No oil company escaped it, and Total had more problems than most, prompting its managing director to issue an apology. The main causes were either availability of product or fleet problems.”

He said shortage of product had been an issue since October, due to a combination of factors –including the knock-on effects of hurricanes and cold weather. High gas prices had led to some power stations switching from gas to oil. Then Buncefield fed into the equation before Christmas, a time of massive demand.

“In terms of fleet problems, oil companies are beginning to move to new gauging equipment that automatically places orders. It needs tweaking!”

Meanwhile, Esso has apologised to retailers in Scotland for fuel delivery problems last year which it says have now been fully addressed. Spokesman David Eglinton said the delivery problems, “during a few short periods in 2005”, were primarily due to a period of driver shortage – a number of drivers left at the same time – together with some short-term local supply issues in Scotland: “Our delivery contractor has now addressed the driver shortage issue, although this took longer than we would have wanted... The delivery contractor has also developed some back-up resource which should help address this type of issue in the future.”

Jean Allardyce of Bridgend Garage (Auchinleck) Ltd, an Esso outlet for more than 50 years, was one of several dealers to speak to Forecourt Trader, complaining about the “chaos” of Scotland’s delivery network. “Esso has cut the number of delivery trucks and drivers so much that they can no longer cope. The number of times my site has been left with pumps inoperable or even worse, completely dry, due to deliveries not turning up, is unbelievable. Sadly I am not alone – I’ve taken calls from many dealers regarding the problem.”

Another Scottish retailer said January had been much better “so far”.