Page last updated at 17:53 GMT, Sunday, 25 May 2008 18:53 UK

Living up to the manifesto pledge

By Jonathan Josephs
BBC London News

Boris Johnson and Michael Bloomberg at City Hall
Mr Johnson has promised New York-style policing

Boris Johnson has decided not to renew the controversial oil deal agreed by his predecessor with Venezuela.

The deal with Caracas was essentially an oil-for-advice exchange, an exchange that Mr Johnson labelled "crackers" during his election campaign.

The decision is further evidence of a marked change in strategy for the office of London Mayor under the new administration.

The scrapping of the deal certainly fits in with the wider approach of Mr Johnson's most senior aide.

Last week Tim Parker was appointed as First Deputy Mayor. The man who made his reputation in the cut-throat world of private equity has a reputation for axing what he sees as unnecessary tentacles of an organisation in order to save money.

Manifesto pledge

It's a safe bet that Mr Parker sees the Venezuela deal as being outside the "core strategy" of the Greater London Authority.

Mayor Johnson will be quick to point to this decision as well as his move to scrap "the Mayor's personal newspaper" The Londoner, which had an annual budget of 2.9 million, as evidence that he isn't taking long to live up to his manifesto pledge of getting better value for money from City Hall's 11 billion annual budget.

On top of that Mr Johnson may feel he can point to smaller details such as the reported scrapping of the daily delivery of the left-wing Morning Star newspaper as evidence that his approach is across the board.

Although Mr Johnson originally pledged to close down the trade offices set up by Ken Livingstone in India, China and Venezuela, he later back-tracked and told an electoral hustings of leading business figures in the City that he could be persuaded otherwise.

Mr Johnson is not completely against the idea of London having international links; one of the first guests he received to his new office was New York's Mayor, Michael Bloomberg.

Hugo Chavez and Ken Livingstone
President Chavez was a guest of the former mayor Ken Livingstone

The two mayors agreed to swap personnel and ideas so that both cities could learn from each others' best practices.

In the battle of ideologies, Mr Johnson's Conservative administration would argue that New York - the city of Boris's birth - is a more suitable partner than Caracas for such exchanges.

However, their predecessors may claim that any deal, no matter what is traded, or with whom, should be struck if there is something in it for London.

If any more international tie-ups are to be agreed by Mr Johnson, Londoners can well expect them to be subjected to a rigorous cost-benefit analysis by Tim Parker.

The unpaid First Deputy Mayor will want to make sure that Londoners are getting value for money.

If anyone doubts Mr Parker's credentials they should remember that his cost-cutting approach earned him the label "Prince of Darkness" from the trade unions during his time in charge of companies such as the AA, Kwik-Fit and Clarks.

Ken Livingstone argued that the deal his administration agreed with Venezuela's state oil company would lead to a quarter of a million of the poorest Londoners benefiting from half price bus and tram travel.

Mr Livingstone maintained that the scheme, whose beneficiaries were those receiving Income Support payments from the government, would lead to a rise in the living standards of some of the most deprived people in the capital.

He has repeated that claim today, and it may well be echoed by those benefiting from the discounted travel.

Benefiting Londoners

Boris Johnson has said he will honour the concessions that the scheme provides until its original end date - August this year - but those that had taken it up will be asking where they will find the money to cover the dent in their back pockets.

Transport for London figures show that after three months of the scheme 56,000 people had taken it up.

And whilst this may not quite be as many as the 250,000 claimed by Mr Livingstone there may still be some disgruntled Londoners for Mr Johnson to soothe; how, or if he'll do this he hasn't said.

But Mr Johnson has claimed that "many Londoners felt uncomfortable about the bus operation of one of the world's financial powerhouses being funded by the people of a country where many people live in extreme poverty" adding that he thinks "there are better ways of benefiting Londoners and better ways of benefiting Venezuelans".

Whilst the impact of this particular cut is relatively clear to see, because of its ring-fenced nature, many millions of Londoners may be wondering what further cuts in spending Mayor Johnson has up his sleeve, and if, and how, they will be affected.

With all this cost-cutting around, one thing that remains to be seen is how quickly Mayor Johnson will complete his pledge to undertake an inquiry into "bureaucratic waste" at City Hall; he thinks he can save 20% of City Hall's publicity and marketing budget.

It was a claim he made repeatedly through his election campaign. No doubt many of the capital's residents will be hoping that those savings and others can be found and that they may even have to pay less council tax as a result.




SEE ALSO
Ex-BBC man is Johnson spokesman
09 May 08 |  UK Politics
Boris Johnson removes LDA staff
08 May 08 |  London
Mayor signs Venezuelan oil deal
20 Feb 07 |  London

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