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Livingstone 'wasted £36,000 on Latin American trip'

Livingstone ‘wasted £36,000 on Latin American trip’

Publisher: Ian Morgan
Published: 14/11/2006 – 16:04:40 PM

London Mayor Ken Livingstone stood accused today of wasting taxpayers’
money after figures showed his controversial trip to Latin America cost
nearly £36,000.

The highlight was supposed to be the signing of an oil deal with
Venezuela but this had to be abandoned because President Hugo Chavez was
too busy to meet him.

Mr Chavez, who is fighting for re-election and came to City Hall in a
high-profile visit in May, pulled the plug at the last minute.

The Mayor said he had been invited by British Olympic Association
chairman Lord Moynihan to attend the International Olympic Committee’s
Sport for All congress in Havana. He spent about 30 minutes there at the
closing press conference.

After the Venezuela leg of his tour was cancelled, his four-and-a-half
day stay in Cuba had to be extended by another day so he could catch a
flight home.

Under pressure to justify this month’s trip, Mr Livingstone said he had
meetings with Cuban trade, economic and foreign affairs ministers
discussing culture, ways around the US embargo on Cuba and developments
in genetics.

Preliminary estimates of the total costs, made public after calls by
members of the London Assembly, show that £35,543.33 was spent.

The Mayor and four officials stopped in Cuba, paying out £16,991 in
flight tickets and £1,530 for accommodation. Meals cost £132, transport
added £195.30 to the bill while telecoms and business services such as
hiring telephones cost £202.80.

Another £16,491.83 was paid out on the aborted Venezuela trip.

Flights for four officials cost £12,948.13 along with £3469.20 on
accommodation and £74.50 expenses.

The three-day trip to Caracas was to seal a complex deal with PDVSA, the
Venezuelan national oil company, to fuel London’s 8,000 buses with
cut-price oil.

In return Mr Chavez gets expertise from London on policing, tourism,
transport, housing and waste disposal to help the poor in the capital
Caracas.

Defending his trip, Mr Livingstone told a City Hall press conference:
“Of course I’m not happy. I will have to go separately to Venezuela when
I open the office there. I will miss my kids. I will have to go to the
airport, which I hate, have a long flight, which I loathe, and rush back
as soon as possible.

“I suspect it is just the problem of scheduling. I regret it. I look
forward to meeting President Chavez again as soon as possible.”

Accusing Mr Livingstone of having “wasted council taxpayers’ money”,
Liberal Democrat leader on the London Assembly Mike Tuffrey said: “The
mayor’s explanation for his trip to Cuba does not wash.

“He can protest as much as he likes but this trip has cost London
taxpayers at least £35,000 – all so he could attend, for less than 20
minutes, a minor meeting at an IOC conference.

“And what is so far uncosted in this whole exercise is the amount of
staff time involved in arranging his useless trip to Latin America.”

A spokesman for the mayor said they had got a £5,905 refund on the Cuba
flight tickets.

http://www.24dash.com/localgovernment/13005.htm

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