The Guardian - England
February 21, 2007
A quarter of a million of the poorest Londoners are to receive half price travel on the capital's buses and trams following the signing of Ken Livingstone's controversial "oil for brooms" deal with president Hugo Chavez. Despite criticism from opponents who accuse him of helping to further impoverish the poor of Venezuela, Mr Livingstone yesterday signed the accord with Caracas in a ceremony at London's City Hall.
From July people on income support in London will be able to register for the discount by filling in a form obtained from the Post Office and having their Oyster travel smartcards adapted to deduct the cheaper fares. Mr Livingstone said lone parents, carers and those with health problems who do not currently qualify for any other cheap travel schemes would benefit most.
Under the accord, signed by the mayor and Nicolas Maduro, Venezuela's minister of the popular power for foreign affairs, the state oil firm Petroleos de Venezuela Europa will give London a 20% reduction in the price of fuel, a saving of up to $32m (£16m) from a yearly bus fuel bill of £100m.
In return, Mr Livingstone will send a small team of his officials to Caracas to advise the Venezuelans on transport, waste, planning and other areas of municipal government. His transport commissioner Peter Hendy will fly to the Venezuelan capital in April to assess the needs of president Chavez's officials.
Critics say London should not take cheap oil from a relatively poor country. But Mr Livingstone said the deal benefits Caracas as much as London and reflects the increasing interdependence of countries around the world in the face of challenges such as climate change. The mayor stressed that the buses would not use any additional oil but would merely run more cheaply for selected passengers.
All the cities of the world needed to cooperate much more... he said. "We will be working with cities right the way across the world. "People increasingly see themselves as part of one planet and we either save the planet together or we die together." Venezuela was oil rich, he said. "I think the current price is about 1p a litre and therefore for Venezuela this is an easy way of making this commitment. For us, we have 100 years of previous practice and experience in managing a big city."
Mr Maduro said the deal symbolised the progress in the region.
But London assembly Conservative spokesman Richard Barnes said: "I think that for one of the richest cities in the world to be getting foreign aid like this is indefensible." Darren Johnson, a Green party member of the assembly, said: "The mayor is telling Londoners to take action on climate change by driving less, then he sends out the opposite message by grabbing at the chance of some cheap oil."
President Chavez has boosted his standing across the Americas and in the Caribbean with a series of deals based on cheap oil. Away from City Hall the deal has also divided opinion. It is welcomed by campaigners such as the Child Poverty Action Group and members of the pro Chavez Venezuelan Information Centre in London were at City Hall to witness the signing. But there have also been protests from anti-Chavez factions.