- December 29, 2016
A 5-year-old girl from East London was fined £150 (since cancelled after going to the Press) by Tower Hamlets council for setting up a lemonade stall on the way to Lovebox Festival, at 50p-£1 for a cup this is the story from her Dad’s perspective:
Writing in the Telegraph Andre Spencer, the girls father, said:
Like many parents, I’m forever searching for ways to entertain my children – especially at this time of year, when the school holidays loom. I know that visits to our local playground won’t be enough to get us through the long summer days. So, I was pretty pleased when I hit on the idea of helping my five-year-old daughter to run a lemonade stand at the end of our street.
Really, it was my daughter’s suggestion. On the way home from school one day, she told me that she wanted to run a stall like they had at the school fete. “What do you want to sell” I asked.
“Food and toys”, she replied.
“Do you want to your sell your toys?”, I replied, trying to hide my excitement. My daughter took a second to think.
“Maybe just food then”.
The next morning, she announced that she wanted to run a lemonade stand. It sounded very American, but it would entertain her and she might even learn a thing of two. I started looking up lemonade recipes.
That weekend, after 30 minutes of labouring over the blender, we had four jugs of lemonade. My daughter drew a sign with some beautiful bright yellow lemons on it. I added the prices: 50p for a small cup; £1 for a large one. After cleaning off an old table, we packed up our things and walked to the end of the street. A music festival was taking place in a nearby park, so dozens of people streamed by every minute. My daughter stood proudly in front of the table. “Who wants lemonade”, she called out. Within a minute, she had her first customer.
The lemonade quickly disappeared and her little money tin filled up. A happy scene. And then, after about 30 minutes, four local council enforcement officers stormed up to her little table.
Excuse me”, one office said as he switched on a portable camera attached to his vest. He then read a lengthy legal statement – the gist of which was that because my daughter didn’t have a trading permit, she would be fined £150. “But don’t worry, it is only £90 if it’s paid quickly”, the officer added.
My daughter burst into tears, repeating again and again “have I done a bad thing”?
After five minutes, the officers’ jobs were done and they went on their way. We packed up and made the short walk home. My daughter sobbed all the way.
When my she had finally calmed down, I started to try to make sense of what had just happened. I’m a professor in a business school, so I probably should have known some kind of permit was required. But this was a five-year-old kid selling lemonade. She wasn’t exactly a public safety hazard.
Later, I tried to lay the matter to rest. “We can get a permit and have a stall another day”, I said.
“No. It’s too scary”, she replied.
Her father continued:
When I shared our experiences with my cousin who lives in Chicago, he told me this would be a national scandal if it happened in the US. Americans would not stand for the spirit of free enterprise being throttled in someone so young. A colleague I work with thought this was an example of how we are discouraging budding female entrepreneurs. An Italian friend said it was yet another example of Britian’s addiction to pointless rules and regulations.
Holding the notice of the fine in my hand, I’m reminded just how restrictive we have become with our children. When I was growing up, my brother and I were able to wonder miles from home without adult supervision. We were encouraged to sell things to raise money for clubs we were part of. By selling biscuits, we learned about maths, communication and basic business skills. But more importantly, we gained a degree of confidence. I can’t ever recall a council officer popping up and fining us.
The world my children are growing up in is radically different. Today, kids are watched by parents around the clock. Most are not allowed beyond the front gate of their house. Everything children do today is carefully regulated by officials, inspectors and their own parents. There are good intentions behind all this obsessive monitoring. But these good intentions can quickly sour.
At the same time as we supervise the joy out of childhood, many of the things which actually help our children thrive are disappearing. Councils have closed youth clubs and young people’s services. Teachers spend more time ticking bureaucratic boxes than teaching kids. Parents are more interested in monitoring their social media feed than playing with their kids. Meanwhile, the number of children being prescribed anti-depressants has gone up 50pc in five years.
Now, after Lemonadegate, as I contemplate the long school holidays which lay ahead, I’m even more confused about how to entertain our children. Setting up a lemonade stand is obviously far too risky. Perhaps I should just rely on that good old fashioned parenting technique – handing my daughter an iPad so she can spend hours watching a creepy guy opening up toys he has just bought.
Tower Hamlets said in a statement:
‘We are very sorry that this has happened. We expect our enforcement officers to show common sense, and to use their powers sensibly. This clearly did not happen.
‘The fine will be cancelled immediately and we will be contacting Professor Spicer and his daughter to apologise.’