Boris Johnson's cancellation of London's oil agreement with Venezuela is a piece of rightwing dogmatism
that is equally costly to the people of London and Caracas. The
agreement was that Londoners on income support received half-price bus
travel, subsidised via cheap Venezuelan oil, in return for London
providing transport, planning and other expertise to Venezuela.
The basic principle of London-Caracas agreement was simple, reasonable
and indeed a rather textbook illustration of relative advantage in
foreign trade. Each side provided the other with that in which they are
rich, and which for them is therefore relatively cheap – oil, on one
hand, and the expertise in managing a modern advanced city on the other
– in return for something which was scarce, and therefore relatively
expensive, for the other side.
The benefits to the poorest people in London were evident – over 130,000 have benefited to date from half-price bus travel.
The benefits to Venezuela were equally great. The accumulated
expertise acquired by long developed cities and companies is one of
their most valuable assets. For Venezuela to develop this purely
internally would take a very long time and be extremely expensive,
while to purchase it from international consulting companies would cost
many times that paid to London.
London gained immediately and both parties agreed from the outset that
London should focus on assisting Venezuela in developing plans to bring
about long-term improvements in areas such as transport, city planning
and the environment.
Short-term projects were scheduled for completion before the
agreement's renewal in August such as traffic enforcement, improving
traffic signals engineering to reduce congestion, and improving
The longer-term projects of urban management and planning were of a
structural nature – for example development of a transport strategy for
Caracas, an urban development plan and the elaboration of an air
quality strategy for the entire country. These longer-term projects
could not be delivered in a period of months in London itself and this
was still less possible in Caracas. Nevertheless, significant momentum
was developed – all those involved were confident that clear progress
would be achieved by the time of the renewal of the agreement.
Venezuela cannot make major progress in improving the quality of
life of its people without such projects and therefore both London and
Caracas we gaining.
Any suggestion that the decision to end the agreement was motivated
by concern about poverty in Venezuela, as Johnson claimed, is entirely
refuted by the fact that London's new Conservative administration has
immediately cancelled planned delegations of transport and environment
experts from London to take forward this work.
If Johnson abolishes the half-price travel for those on income support on London buses, as he appeared to state on May 25, that is an attack on the poorest Londoners. A statement to Guardian contributor Dave Hill,
from City Hall, then appeared to retreat from this saying Johnson: "Has
asked officials from Transport for London to consider whether there may
be alternative ways of providing this support."
However "to consider" is not a pledge to continue and while
Londoners must press to ensure that half-price bus travel for those on
income support continues, this subsidy will then be paid by Londoners –
bad value considering the alternative. Because the original deal was
good for both London and Venezuela, cancelling it is bad for both.