Restaurateur who underpaid staff is short-listed for award

Croydon’s Labour-run local council is backing “business excellence” awards tonight at which one of the entries short-listed for a prize is a woman who has been prosecuted for failing to pay her workers the legal minimum wage.

Neelofar Khan: Croydon businesswoman prosecuted for failing to pay the minimum wage

Neelofar Khan: Croydon businesswoman prosecuted for failing to pay the minimum wage

When campaigning in the local elections last year, Tony Newman, now Labour’s council leader, said, “We will work to make Croydon a living wage borough.”

Yet tonight, our council will be prominent among the sponsors of a set of awards which will celebrate businesses that exist by not paying for work at all.

Up for the prize as Croydon’s “Entrepreneur of the Year” (yes, seriously) is Neelofar Khan, who now runs a takeaway food business, Zabardast, which has branches in Waterloo and on Dingwall Road.

Khan, 56, has held directorships in a string of businesses, most of which have been dissolved. Among them was the Chilli Chutney restaurant in Streatham, which in 2010 was placed in voluntary liquidation, owing more than £1 million to creditors. 

Khan closed down the Chilli Chutney businesses after an Employment Tribunal ordered her  to pay more than £35,000 to an immigrant she had exploited by paying them less than the minimum wage.

Khan had employed the man as a £23,000-a-year executive chef, but then paid them just £600 in two months. When the under-paid chef reported his employer to the authorities, Khan made false allegations about him to the UK Border Agency – maybe in Croydon, that’s what passes for “award-winning entrepreneurship”?

The employee, who feared he would lose out on thousands of pounds and face deportation as a result of Khan’s conduct, was ultimately vindicated when the business-owner’s allegations were deemed unfounded by the tribunal.

Khan, who publicly endorsed local Tory MP Gavin Barwell’s election campaign, is not alone as being a slightly flaky candidate up for prizes at tonight’s £174-a-head bash being staged at the Fairfield Halls.

Others include a hipster caff which nine months ago claimed to be on the brink of bankruptcy and which failed to pay staff on several occasions, and another “business” which claims its USP is specifically to take contributed work and not to pay for it.

Tony Newman: another election promise abandoned, this time over opposition to the Beddington incinerator

Tony Newman: backing awards that short-list businesses that under-pay workers

But these Croydon Business “Excellence” Awards are all just a bit bogus: businesses were encouraged to enter themselves – remember the old saying about self-praise being no recommendation?

According to the organisers, “There is a robust and impartial judging process in place to decide the winners of the Croydon Business Excellence Awards 2015.”

Yet the judging has been cloaked in opacity – apart from one “professional scrutineer”, none of the judges, if any actually exist, have been identified by the organisers. So the opportunity for Buggin’s Turn, for mates to hand over prizes to their mates, is more than ample.

The awards are organised by that seemingly ubiquitous Croydon PR agency, Grey Label, so favoured by Croydon Council under the Tories and now, too, by Newman’s Labour group. Grey Label were the creative masterminds who this summer gave us The Croydon Ash-tray – dumping 10 tons of sand in the middle of town and trying to pass it off as a “beach”.

It’s probably a bit of a relief all-round that Grey Label didn’t put themselves forward for one of their own awards tonight. They’d certainly not win sales performance of the year  – even though the black-tie “gala” event has a capacity of fewer than 320, the organisers were still trying to flog their over-priced tickets this week.

The short-listing for prizes of Khan and other businesses with less than accomplished or ethical business CVs could back-fire on some of the sponsors, including Croydon Council.

The usually ethically squeaky-clean Handelsbanken, the Swedish bank whose Croydon branch has stumped up the money to stamp their brand on the Croydon Entrepreneur prize, could be embarrassed if a business figure as notorious as Khan gets a gong.

Handelsbanken logo“Our sponsorship of the Entrepreneur of the Year category reflects our belief that people that invest, innovate and commit themselves to their businesses form the very foundation that sustained economic growth can be built upon,” Handelsbanken  claim in the awards blurb.

The council leader Tony Newman refused to answer Inside Croydon‘s questions about how much, at this time of local funding cuts, our council is paying to sponsor these vacuous and utterly worthless awards.

We asked Councillor Newman  – allowances of £50,000-plus per year paid for by local tax-payers – how many councillors and council officials would be attending tonight’s champagne reception and four-course slap-up meal (at public expense). Again, Newman refused to answer.

And when he was invited to comment on the possibility of an award going to a businesswoman who has been prosecuted for failing to pay her employees the legal minimum wage, Newman maintained his silence.

Perhaps this is what they mean by having a business-friendly Labour Party?

About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email
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