A $250 fine over a kid's lemonade stand has sparked a fresh debate about dumb rules

An illegal development breaching several council bylaws. Image: Shutterstock.

Dr Andre Spicer is about to publish a book titled “Business Bullshit”, arguing that corporate jargon is killing companies.

The previous book by the professor of organisational behaviour at the City, University of London’s Cass Business School, is about stupidity in the workplace, best summed up in this essay titled “You don’t have to be stupid to work here but it helps“.

Last week, when his five-year-old daughter set up a lemonade stand at the end of the London street where the Australian-educated academic lives, he came face to face with another kind of stupidity – council bureaucracy.

Just 30 minutes after they began selling 50p (84 cents) cups of lemonade, council enforcement officers turned up and fined Spicer and his daughter £150 ($AU250) for operating the lemonade stand without a permit.

Spicer recounted how the scene unfolded in London’s The Telegraph:

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.

As the lawbreaking Dr Spicer points out, an American cousin told him it would be a national scandal there.

“Americans would not stand for the spirit of free enterprise being throttled in someone so young,” he wrote.

An Italian friend told him “it was yet another example of Britain’s addiction to pointless rules and regulations”.

More importantly, it was an example of styling innovation and imagination in the next generation of entrepreneurs, Spicer worried.

“Everything children do today is carefully regulated by officials, inspectors and their own parents,” he said.

The incident became know as “lemonadegate” and as the notoriety of the dead hand of council bureaucracy spread internationally, Dr Spicer and his daughter were flooded with offers from markets, other councils and even the supermarket chain Morrisons to set up her lemonade stand there.

On Friday, Tower Hamlets Council buckled, saying they’d cancel the fine and apologise to the professor and his daughter.

“We expect our enforcement officers to show common sense, and to use their powers sensibly. This clearly did not happen,” the council said in another tweet.

“We are very sorry that this has happened.”

Dr Spicer and his family issued their own statement on Twitter on the weekend with the hashtag #MakeAStand, saying they had been overwhelmed by the kindness of people around the world and encouraging people to give children the chance to express themselves.

“We learn through doing. Making a stand is a great opportunity for kids to share their interests, build confidence and contribute to our communities,” Spicer wrote.

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