The Labour group which runs the council, and which two years ago was elected on a promise of making Croydon a London living wage borough, has provided a £3 million loan to a business which is not registered as a London living wage employer.
That’s according to a response to a Freedom of Information request to the council about Boxpark, the food and booze venue next to East Croydon Station which opened at the end of October.
Boxpark is today staging part of a £400-plus-a-head ticket jolly for developers and property speculators organised under the “Develop Croydon” banner by the ubiquitous local public relations agency, Grey Label.
One of the “stellar line-up of speakers” at the conference is Roger Wade, the founder of Boxpark and its Croydon subsidiary company.
So far, according to the council, the 40 or so food and drink businesses operating out of Boxpark’s 80 refitted shipping containers have employed a grand total of 50 Croydon residents.
But in response to our FoI, Croydon Council says that it has no idea whether any of these companies pay the London Living Wage. “Croydon Council does not hold this information,” they said.
“It’s a massive missed opportunity. Bars, restaurants and the hospitality business generally is notorious for its use of low-paid, casual workers. The council could have got a number of companies in Boxpark to sign up as living wage employers,” a trades union representation told Inside Croydon.
A spokeswoman for the Living Wage Foundation, which oversees the accreditation of fair-paying employers, was aware that Croydon Council is registered with their scheme. “We’d very much like to celebrate new organisations becoming living wage employers, particularly those operating in the hospitality sector, which is known as a difficult area for pay,” she said.
Tony Newman, Labour’s council leader, and the clique which controls the Town Hall cabinet, made a big point of saying that they wanted to improve working conditions for local people when they went seeking their votes in 2014. Indeed, the first section of Newman’s manifesto was devoted to Croydon employees’ wages.
“Croydon needs a skilled and knowledgeable workforce, and a workforce that is paid fairly,” Croydon Labour’s manifesto stated. “We will work with Jobcentreplus, employers and our educational partners to ensure that our people have the right skills for the right job while ensuring they are paid justly for their work.
“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.”
But now, it seems, the council isn’t even bothering to ensure businesses receiving multi-million-pound loans from the Town Hall are paying the London living wage.
Last year, Croydon handed a £3 million loan of public money to Boxpark to lure the company to south London, even though the company had not registered as a living wage employer.
According to the council’s FoI response: “Boxpark Croydon does pay the London Living Wage and has committed to seeking accreditation through the London Living Wage Foundation”.
The Living Wage Foundation today confirmed that Boxpark is not registered as a Living Wage employer.
They said that the registration process can take longer for larger, complex organisations, but can also be very quick. “They might just phone us and be accredited the next day,” the Living Wage Foundation spokeswoman said. She added that the Foundation typically turns round applications, when criteria are met, within 10 days.
“A lot depends on the attitudes of the organisation’s senior leadership,” she said.
Roger Wade formed the first Boxpark company, initially to operate a boutique fashion outlet in Shoreditch, in 2010.
The Living Wage in London is £9.75 per hour. The Living Wage Foundation states that, “It is an hourly rate that provides a benchmark for employers that voluntarily choose to ensure their staff earn a wage that meets their cost of living… The Living Wage Employer Mark and Service Provider Recognition Scheme provide an ethical badge for responsible pay”.
Newman and his cabal who run Croydon Council have at least done their bit to ensure that one Boxpark employee is paid handsomely above the London living wage, though.
That’s Matthew McMillan, the “development director” at Boxpark.
Newman and his mates will be trooping over to Croydon College tomorrow morning for what is described as a “keynote speech” from Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, but what in reality will probably turn out to be just the warm-up act for Amy Lame, the American-born radio host who was recently made “Night Czar for London”, a position which, it turns out, is more glitter than substance.
Khan and Lame will be speaking at another of the one-day mutual back-slapping exercises in which Croydon is so well-practised.
This “economic summit” from something called the Croydon Local Strategic Partnership includes a panel discussion with the borough’s new top cop, Jeff Boothe, on the night-time economy, and a presentation on “Croydon’s Good Employer Charter” from Mark Watson, one of Newman’s closest colleagues.
Watson, though, will doubtless will fail to mention the council’s inability to ensure that all Boxpark’s 40 outlets are registered as London living wage employers.
And for a session entitled, “Reaping the benefit for local people”, one of the panel is McMillan, who should be able to offer an interesting personal perspective.
Because before he worked at Boxpark, McMillan worked at Croydon Council, and it was McMillan who helped recommend giving a £3million loan to… Boxpark, the very people who, less than six months later, were paying his wages. Presumably at much more than £9.75 per hour.
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