Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Would easing the public sector pay cap be the start of a slippery slope for the Treasury?

The Chancellor could find himself continually doling out extra cash to head off rebellions.

To defeat Jeremy Corbyn, you must become him. That appears to be the conclusion that the Cabinet has reached over the weekend. Damian Green used his address to the Conservative think tank Bright Blue to call for  "a national debate" over the future of tuition fees. (However, aides have clarified the remarks, saying that Corbyn got away with promising to cut fees without really having to defend his planned tax increases, and that is the "debate" that must be had.)

The Conservatives are taking something of a Corbynite turn, however: Michael Gove told the Sunday Times' Tim Shipman that the public sector pay cap should be lifted. Boris Johnson has stuck his oar in too, saying that he supports a lifting of the cap, provided it is done in a "responsible way".

"Cabinet split over austerity tax row" is the Telegraph's splash. Except the Cabinet isn't split, not really. A list of ministers who are for continuing the pay freeze would start with "Philip" and end with "Hammond".

Also pressing the case for more cash is Justine Greening, who wants £1.2bn in extra funding for schools in order to cancel the coming cuts to education.

It's difficult for the Treasury – on the one hand, Theresa May's disappointing election result means that their nightmare of being hobbled by Downing Street has been headed off at the pass. On the other hand, panic at the near-death experience of the election means that everyone wants a little extra cash. (That these sums are so easily packaged as "the DUP plus a spare Nigel Dodds" by the opposition is only going to add to the clamour for more spending.)

There's also the risk that, in these times of no majority, the Treasury finds itself continually doling out extra cash to head off rebellions. A little extra money to allow Northern Irish women to access their reproductive rights here. Easing of the pay cap there. These aren't big sums as far as the government's total expenditure goes, but they all make the Budget harder and make it less and less likely that Hammond's scrapping of the Autumn Statement will last very long.

The danger for the Conservatives is that if they endure a summer of discontent from public sector workers and continuing pressure on pay thanks to the cap, as well as the fall in the value of the pound, then that doesn't exactly communicate that they have "got the message" and only helps Labour. But if the Chancellor is seen to have lost control of public spending, that hurts the Conservative brand, too.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

Photo: André Spicer
Show Hide image

“It’s scary to do it again”: the five-year-old fined £150 for running a lemonade stand

Enforcement officers penalised a child selling home-made lemonade in the street. Her father tells the full story. 

It was a lively Saturday afternoon in east London’s Mile End. Groups of people streamed through residential streets on their way to a music festival in the local park; booming bass could be heard from the surrounding houses.

One five-year-old girl who lived in the area had an idea. She had been to her school’s summer fête recently and looked longingly at the stalls. She loved the idea of setting up her own stall, and today was a good day for it.

“She eventually came round to the idea of selling lemonade,” her father André Spicer tells me. So he and his daughter went to their local shop to buy some lemons. They mixed a few jugs of lemonade, the girl made a fetching A4 sign with some lemons drawn on it – 50p for a small cup, £1 for a large – and they carried a table from home to the end of their road. 

“People suddenly started coming up and buying stuff, pretty quickly, and they were very happy,” Spicer recalls. “People looked overjoyed at this cute little girl on the side of the road – community feel and all that sort of stuff.”

But the heart-warming scene was soon interrupted. After about half an hour of what Spicer describes as “brisk” trade – his daughter’s recipe secret was some mint and a little bit of cucumber, for a “bit of a British touch” – four enforcement officers came striding up to the stand.

Three were in uniform, and one was in plain clothes. One uniformed officer turned the camera on his vest on, and began reciting a legal script at the weeping five-year-old.

“You’re trading without a licence, pursuant to x, y, z act and blah dah dah dah, really going through a script,” Spicer tells me, saying they showed no compassion for his daughter. “This is my job, I’m doing it and that’s it, basically.”

The girl burst into tears the moment they arrived.

“Officials have some degree of intimidation. I’m a grown adult, so I wasn’t super intimidated, but I was a bit shocked,” says Spicer. “But my daughter was intimidated. She started crying straight away.”

As they continued to recite their legalese, her father picked her up to try to comfort her – but that didn’t stop the officers giving her stall a £150 fine and handing them a penalty notice. “TRADING WITHOUT LICENCE,” it screamed.

Picture: André Spicer

“She was crying and repeating, ‘I’ve done a bad thing’,” says Spicer. “As we walked home, I had to try and convince her that it wasn’t her, it wasn’t her fault. It wasn’t her who had done something bad.”

She cried all the way home, and it wasn’t until she watched her favourite film, Brave, that she calmed down. It was then that Spicer suggested next time they would “do it all correctly”, get a permit, and set up another stand.

“No, I don’t want to, it’s a bit scary to do it again,” she replied. Her father hopes that “she’ll be able to get over it”, and that her enterprising spirit will return.

The Council has since apologised and cancelled the fine, and called on its officials to “show common sense and to use their powers sensibly”.

But Spicer felt “there’s a bigger principle here”, and wrote a piece for the Telegraph arguing that children in modern Britain are too restricted.

He would “absolutely” encourage his daughter to set up another stall, and “I’d encourage other people to go and do it as well. It’s a great way to spend a bit of time with the kids in the holidays, and they might learn something.”

A fitting reminder of the great life lesson: when life gives you a fixed penalty notice, make lemonade.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.