Council pledge on Living Wage forgotten for #IWD party

A senior Town Hall figure has admitted that Croydon Council “has no idea” whether the staff working at the venue at which it is staging a “celebratory event” this evening for International Women’s Day are paid the London Living Wage.

Croydon Council deputy leader Alison Butler: hosting International Women's Day event, but council doesn't know whether staff are paid LLW

Croydon Labour’s deputy leader Alison Butler: hosting International Women’s Day event, but council doesn’t know whether staff are paid LLW

The council’s flagship event is being held at Matthew’s Yard, off Surrey Street, using the somewhat optimistic hashtag, under the circumstances, of #Pledge for Parity.

Yet Croydon Council is unable to say whether the bar staff, those serving canapes to the VIP guests, or working in the kitchens or cleaning up after the party’s over – male or female – will receive at least the minimum rate of £9.15 per hour for their efforts. Making Croydon a London Living Wage borough was a key manifesto pledge when Labour won control of the council in 2014.

“Croydon will be a London Living Wage council and we will campaign to make Croydon a living wage borough,” the local Labour politicians, led by Tony Newman and his deputy, Alison Butler, said then.

Last year, Newman, Butler and their colleagues took deserved pride in being able to announce that they had made the council a London Living Wage employer, meaning that its minimum rate of pay is £2.65 above the national minimum wage, reflecting the soaring cost of living in the capital.

“This was a clear political commitment by our administration,” Newman said last autumn when announcing that Croydon Council had been officially accredited as a LLW employer.

But that was just the half of it.

Labour’s 2014 local election manifesto also stated: “We shall ensure that all new council contracts will pay the London Living Wage and we will work to make Croydon a living wage borough.”

The italics are not our emphasis: the stress was included in Labour’s manifesto.

And it was a point which Newman was keen to emphasise himself just a couple of months ago: “It is our ambition to see the London Living Wage rolled out across every company and organisation in our borough, as we have already seen with employers such as IKEA and Lidl.”

Matthew's YardYet tonight’s council event is the second function in the space of a month officially backed by Town Hall officials to be staged at Matthew’s Yard. Nonetheless, members of Labour’s cabinet who we have spoken with, nor the council director organising the event nor the director of the company which runs the venue are prepared to state categorically that those working at the hipster coffee shop are being paid the London Living Wage.

Last week, an invitation went out to all Croydon councillors to attend tonight’s International Women’s Day event, which is promising a photo and art exhibition, open mic performances (a posh version of karaoke?), and live music.

The invite was sent by Sarah Ireland as the sponsor of the council’s “Women’s Network group”. Ireland, a long-time aide to Nathan Elvery, now the council CEO, receives a handsome salary as the council’s “director of strategy commissioning and communities”, so it really ought to be her task to ensure that the policy as laid down by Croydon’s elected representatives – such as “all new council contracts will pay the London Living Wage” – are implemented.

Ireland’s department, the council says, has “a commissioning focus on better outcomes for Croydon people but it also aims to ensure a consistent commissioning approach across the council”. Like ensuring that the council only uses companies which pay the London Living Wage.

It might seem odd, given the amount of venues which Croydon Council owns or pays for – such as Fisher’s Folly, the council headquarters, built at a cost to tax-payers of £140million; or Braithwaite Hall; or even Fairfield Halls and its various gallery spaces – that a procurement director finds it necessary to go outside the council estate and use public money to hire a venue.

Council employee Sarah Ireland: "focused" on better outcomes for Croydon people. Apparently

Council employee Sarah Ireland: “focused” on better outcomes for Croydon people. Apparently

But each one-off venue booking at Matthew’s Yard might be expected to constitute a “new council contract”, and therefore renewed opportunities for Ireland and her procurement team to discover whether those working at the venue are paid the London Living Wage. Or whether, as tends to be the industry norm, they are low-waged casual workers.

Last week, Inside Croydon asked Ireland what measures Croydon Council has taken to ensure that all workers at Matthew’s Yard are paid the London Living Wage, as per the council’s policy. Ireland, a public servant on a salary of close to £100,000 per year, or something adjacent to £55 per hour, refused to answer.

We also asked what steps Ireland had taken to check that Matthew’s Yard was fully compliant with all council and other authorities’ licensing requirements, or whether the venue had full public liability insurance. Ireland again failed to respond.

We asked the same questions of a senior member of the council cabinet. They, too, refused to speak on the record, but did concede that, “I don’t think anything has been done on this.” So much for a key Labour manifesto pledge.

Saif Bonar opened Matthew’s Yard in a disused warehouse off Surrey Street shortly after the 2011 Croydon riots, somewhat opportunistically. “The attention of the world was on Croydon. I thought ‘if there’s any time to do it then this is a good time’,” he has said.

Bonar has also been quoted as saying of Croydon, “Maybe it’s not the shit hole that people say it is.”

Until a year ago, Matthew’s Yard operated as a coffee shop, bar and cafe, employing its own staff. After a number of them walked out, having not been paid their wages, and with the business teetering on the edge of bankruptcy, with Bonar openly admitting to having debts in six figures, he opted to “change the business model”.

Trying to crowdsource his struggling business had failed to resolve its short-comings, so since early 2015, Bonar has franchised out the bar and catering elements of Matthew’s Yard, allowing “pop-up” businesses to sell their overpriced burgers and “eclectic” teas, in return for which they will pay a rent or commission, or combination of the two.

Inside Croydon has asked Bonar, more than once, whether people working at Matthew’s Yard are paid the London Living Wage. Few will now be directly employed by him, but it should still be reasonable to ascertain the payment policies of his business partners. But Bonar, too, has refused to answer the question – which is not the response you might expect if the venue was entirely London Living Wage compliant.

Marina Ahmad, Labour’s London Assembly candidate for Croydon and Sutton, has been tweeting today, “Let’s talk money.”

Marking International Women’s Day, Ahmad wrote, “A Living Wage in London must mean closing the gender pay gap and bringing true economic equality to women.” Yet in the heart of a Labour-controlled borough, her party colleagues are spending public money to hire a venue where women may not be paid the London Living Wage.

Tonight’s event is, according to Croydon Council, to “champion the lives and achievements of Women in Croydon”. Let’s hope that those attending the shindig spare a moment to consider those “Women of Croydon” who are being paid less than £9.15 per hour.

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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7 Responses to Council pledge on Living Wage forgotten for #IWD party

  1. The silence in response to your questions about the LLW is deafening. A suspicious person may think that they have something to hide.

  2. Rod Davies says:

    Surely if the individuals currently operating the various franchises in Matthews Yard are self-employed, then LLW doesn’t apply to them. They can work for nothing if they want, LLW only applies to employees.
    Cllr Newman is being forthright about requiring LLW to apply to new contracts. LLW couldn’t be enforced retrospectively upon existing contractors. We should bear in mind that many contracts can be in place for very long periods, once all the extensions are used.
    Making LLW a requirement for all contractors and their subcontractors is something that Croydon’s procurement and legal personnel have a responsibility to enshrine in the contracts. Equally it is not beyond the wit of man / woman for a council officer to require that suppliers do pay LLW, and be aware from the pricing structure if LLW is being paid.

  3. I would suggest that the manifesto commitment regarding “all Council contracts” is badly drafted as is only intended for major purchasing. However any purchase or sale would constitute a contract. Thus trade waste agreements or the sale of parking tickets would be contracts. Surely the Labour Party never intended to cease offering trade waste agreements to companies that did not offer the LLW? How did they intend to prevent businesses using pay and display facilities? Were manifestos to be classed as offers to secure your vote then breach would be actionable in Court. They might then be more realistic and carefully drafted.

  4. Saif Bonar says:

    To clarify, Matthews Yard has zero employees. The business is run under contract by myself and a series of sub-contractors. All sub-contractors are paid above the London living wage. I am not. Our concessions pay very well for the field they operate in, several pounds more per hour than similar national chains. Even when Matthews Yard ran the cafe its employees were paid at least £0.70 more than the national pubcos operating in Croydon.

    • So, having been asked the direct question – are all the people working at Matthew’s Yard paid at least the LLW? – twice, and refusing to answer it, you now come back and answer several other questions, none of which are relevant.

      We’re not at all concerned about what you pay yourself – that will be a matter of public record soon enough, if you submit your company accounts on time.

      But your remark, “Our concessions pay very well for the field they operate in” is noted, because it confirms our story entirely. You just cannot bring yourself to state that all those working at your business are paid the London Living Wage, probably because they are not.

      And so it confirms that Croydon’s Labour Council is breaking its manifesto promise to insist that it only does business with those enterprises which do so.

      This raises another question: why does it bother to do so? Has Saif Bonar’s threats and protests over one matter or another managed to cow Tony Newman and his top team into throwing the occasion event there?

      Maybe other venue managers in Croydon will take note.

    • davidjl2014 says:

      So ALL your creditors have been paid off from the previous regime and the staff you owed money to have been reimbursed for the work they did, “minimum wage” or not. Having worked in the industry for over 30 years, I saw far too many “changes in business models” that left a trail of unpaid debts in their wake, while the owners set up “duplicate” companies and just carried trading as if nothing had ever happened. But I’m sure that’s not the case here!

      • Saif Bonar says:

        David, I am well aware of the possibility of setting up Phoenix companies and faced pressure from certain types of potential investor to do so. We declined that approach and their investment.

        All former employees have been fully repaid including all SSP, Holiday pay and NI contributions and associated taxes which were due. All other creditor repayments are on track and we have reduced our total debt by more than £100,000 in the past 12 months. The new model is better for everyone involved in the business and involves a more equitable distribution of labour and profit (or potential profit) from each premises.

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