NEW LONDON Mayor Boris Johnson began his term in office by scrapping the deal negotiated by Ken Livingstone for cheap Venezuelan oil that was used to subsidise half price travel on London’s buses and trams for people on income support.
The deal was to supply the Venezuelan capital, Caracas, with technical information in exchange for the oil and when Livingstone secured it Johnson described the deal as “crackers” – and described Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez, who has mass popular support, as a “South American dictator”. Now Livingstone has described Johnson’s action as “a direct attack on the poorest Londoners”.
The cheap fares were supplied in conjunction with the Oyster card scheme and claimants had to re-apply for them every six months.
The existing contract for oil from Venezuela is due to expire in August and Johnson says he will not renew it but he will honour the discount fares for those who apply for renewal up to that point for next six months. After that there will be no more cheap fares.
Livingstone said: “It shows that he is more interested in pursuing his right-wing ideological agenda than in improving the living standards of the most deprived people in the capital.”
Johnson also tried to scrap the London mayoral trade offices in Caracas, China and India but City of London business people pressured him to keep them as vital business contacts.
Johnson has appointed Tim Parker as First Deputy Mayor – a man who made his reputation in the cut-throat world of private equity and has a reputation for axing what he sees as unnecessary tentacles of an organisation in order to save money.
Parker’s cost cutting vigour earned him the title “Prince of darkness” from trade unions while he was in charge of companies such as the AA, Kwik-Fit and Clarks.
Johnson and Parker have already abolished The Londoner – the mayor’s personal newspaper.
One of the first guests Johnson received was New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg to swap personnel and ideas.
Boris has boasted that he can save 20 per cent of City Hall’s £11 billion budget so Londoners can expect a regime of cuts to services to match those of the Thatcher era.
Commuters fear that the cuts will affect the current £1 billion-a-year upgrade of the London Underground network and the £16 billion Crossrail project; as Livingstone points out, “Johnson has yet to get to grips with funding problems”.
Johnson has also embarked on a “forensic audit”, headed by Patience Wheatcroft, of the use of taxpayers’ money at the LDA and by the Greater London Authority.
The Labour group has challenged the Mayor to explain: “Why did you not make the political affiliations of your panel members clear to the public in your official press release?”
The letter also asks Johnson to set out “How much are your Conservative friends and colleagues being paid from taxpayers’ money to dig dirt on Ken Livingstone” and questions whether “this is an appropriate use of public funds?”
According to the Mayor’s press release the panel includes: “Andrew Gordon, Head of Investigations within the Forensic Services group of PricewaterhouseCoopers, who will act as Independent Expert Advisor to the Panel.”