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What the Town Hall Signifies


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The modern government of Sheffield centres in the New Town Hall, with the exceptions that those who break the laws are tried by the magistrates at the Old Town Hall, or Police Court, in Castle Street, and that the Poor Laws are administered at the Sheffield and the Ecclesall Union offices. The rates, however, for paying for the work done under the Poor Laws, are collected at the Town Hall, as well as the other rates for all the public work of the city, such as the cost of education, roads, health, parks, libraries, etc. In short, the Town Hall is the seat of the government of modern Sheffield.

Just as all the telegraph wires of the country round run to the Central Post Office, so all the public business of the city centres finally on the Town Hall, and on the City Council that voluntarily works there under the Chairmanship of the Lord Mayor, with the Town Clerk, the City Treasurer, the City Engineer, the Water Department Manager, the Medical Officer of Health, the Surveyor of the Highways, the Manager of the Electric Department, the Assistant Overseer, the City Architect, the Manager of the Markets, and all their staffs to help.

Three departments - Education, Tramways, and Police - are so large that they have to be accommodated elsewhere; but they, too, belong to the City Council as much as if they were housed in the Town Hall. The Town Hall then, and what goes on in it, represent everything that Sheffield does for the government of itself that was not done in any regular and concentrated way before it was incorporated as a borough in 1843.

For fifty years Sheffield was an incorporated town, and then, in 1893, it was created a city. In 1897, the Chairman of its Council and Chief Magistrate for his year of office received the title of Lord Mayor, with the right of being addressed, while in office, as the Right Honourable.

Let us glance just for a moment at the greatness of the work that centres on the Town Hall, a work quite unguessed at by the people, wise in their day, who secured incorporation in 1843.

When the people of Sheffield voted, in 1841, whether they would or would not have a Town Council, and every ratepayer was asked to vote, 12,554 votes were given, and the money they were assessed at for rating purposes was 155,495. Now there are 92,000 voters, and they are assessed at nearly 2,000,000.

The city is the sixth in population in the British Isles, the five larger being London, Birmingham, Glasgow, Liverpool, and Manchester. Its estimated population for the middle of the year in which this book is printed (1915) is 484,000 ; and at the next census it will have more than half a million inhabitants. It covers an area of 24,347 acres, and is about 11 miles in length from Tinsley to High Neb on Stanage Edge, and over four miles, as the crow flies, at its greatest breadth.

The city is divided into sixteen wards, each returning three members to the City Council, and making with sixteen aldermen a Council numbering sixty-four. The aldermen, by agreement, are divided equally between the political parties, eight Liberal (including Labour) aldermen and eight Conservatives, each party selecting its own aldermen. The Lord Mayors are chosen in alternate years from the Conservatives and from the Liberals. This arrangement has worked very smoothly and fairly and is thoroughly democratic, for it allows the ratepayers, on the 1st of November in any year, when sixteen councillors retire, to alter the Party balance of power in the Council, if an alteration seems desirable.

Elections are strongly fought on Party lines. Usually there are seven or eight direct representatives of the working classes in the Council, of whom several are Socialists. The Council, indeed, is always broadly representative of the whole community -the large employers of labour, the professional classes, the tradespeople, and the organized workers - and in ability and public experience it reaches a high level of efficiency. It would be difficult to find a city where local government is carried on with greater zest or better feeling.

For Parliamentary purposes the city is divided, at present (1915), into five constituencies - Central Sheffield, Attercliffe, Brightside, Hallam,. and Ecclesall - but by its population and municipal grouping it should have two more members, as a considerable number of citizens vote, in a Parliamentary election, for the neighbouring constituencies of North-East Derbyshire and Hallamshire, which already are too large. No doubt in the near future a re-arrangement of the Parliamentary boundaries will be made that will give Sheffield at least seven members.

Already some account has been given of the work of the Tramways and Highways Departments, in commenting on roads and transit, and separate chapters must be allotted to the important work of the Education Committee, the Water Committee, and the Parks, Libraries, and Museums. Here a general survey must include the work done from the Town Hall, with special references to several important committees.

The City Council employs an official staff approaching 600 members. It pays weekly wages or monthly salaries to more than 8,000 persons. The salary list for the staff, including teachers, totals 265,000 a year. Between 5,500 and 6,000 workmen draw weekly wages for work done for the many committees, and the yearly amount paid to them is about 450,000. The work of the city is discussed and broadly planned by twenty committees formed out of the Council, with assistance in some cases from citizens who are not members of the Council, but are invited by the members to join the committees - as in the cases of the Education, Free Libraries, and Old Age Pensions Committees.

The Education Committee reports its work to the Council only twice a year, when its Estimates of Expenditure are passed, and its operations are so extensive and varied that it forms within itself fifteen sub-committees or sections, each devoted to a different kind of work. The other committees are obliged, in order to get through their work, to form sub-committees varying in number from two to eight, according to the variety of the work. Altogether, the City Council and the Education Committee hold, either in full Council, or Committees, or Sub-Committees, between 1,300 and 1,400 meetings every year, so vast is the work to be done.

Every intelligent person in Sheffield, old or young, man or woman, boy or girl, ought to know how his, or her, business - for it really is the business of each person living in the city - is done at the Town Hall, by the unpaid aldermen and councillors and committee men, and by the paid staff.

The committee which keeps a restraining hand on all the other committees is the finance committee. Through its chairman it has to present to the Council every year the Budget, or account of all expenditure for the past year and for the coming year, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer brings the Budget of the nation before Parliament. Then, whatever be the amount that the Council agrees to spend during the coming year, beginning with April, the Finance Committee must arrange to find the money. If it is ordinary expenditure, it gets the money by levying rates on all ratepayers according to the value of their house or property. The rate goes up or down year by year, as more or less money is required. When the rate has been fixed by the Committee and agreed to by the City Council, every one must pay it. Many people who live in small houses do not pay the rate directly. The landlord who owns the house pays it. But the people really pay it, because the landlord charges it in the rent.

Some expenses, such as laying a road that will last many years, or building a school that may stand, for a hundred years, cannot be paid for out of one year's rates, but must be spread over a number of the years during which the work will endure. The money paid for work that does not wear out for a long time is called capital expenditure, and it is borrowed from anybody who will lend it, and is gradually paid back, with interest. And each year the Finance Committee has to arrange to borrow money for work on things that last. The interest on this borrowed money, and the amount that has to be paid back each year, comes out of the rates. In this way Sheffield still owes, of money it has borrowed, about 9,700,000, which it will have to pay back gradually, and on which it pays interest to the lenders.

But the city is not really in debt to that amount, because it has the lands and buildings, and other things that have been bought with the borrowed money, and they are worth much more than the city owes. And indeed, much of the money borrowed, such as the capital expenditure on the tramways, is earning good profits. If the city could sell all it has (which, of course, it never could), it would have millions of pounds more than it owes.

Now, let us see how the Finance Committee manages its huge expenditure. Every year each committee makes an estimate, first, of what it expects to spend in the coming year on ordinary expenses, and, second, on capital expenses for more or less permanent works. All these desired expenses are sent by the committees to the Finance Committee, and that committee always finds that when added together they make up a larger sum than the City can properly afford for that year. That is because each committee is interested in its own work, and wants to do something special for the good of the city. All the committees say they are very much in favour of economy, but they want the economy to be shown by some other committee - not theirs. Who then is to be the umpire between the various committees?

The difficulty is met in this way: The Finance Committee calls into consultation with itself the chairman of each of the other committees, and all these chairmen meet with the Finance Committee, the united gathering being called the Finance Consultative Committee; and there all the chairmen, with all their wants, fight it out in argument till the amount that can be afforded for each committee to spend is fixed. All the chairmen will sec that no one chairman gets more for his committee than his fair share; for, if he does, there will be the less for the rest to spend.

When the right share of the coming year's expense has been allotted to each committee, the Finance Committee takes the revised estimates to the City Council, which always agrees with what has been done, because the Council knows the matter has been well thrashed out, and justice has been fairly done all round; and the Finance Committee levies the right rate for raising the money to be spent on ordinary work, and arranges to borrow the money for capital expenditure on permanent work as cheaply as it can. In this way the Finance Committee holds the balance between all the committees. Now you can see how rash people are who, when they are not in the City Council, say what wonderful things they would do if they were there. They would do just what the united wisdom of the Finance Consultative Committee would allow them to do, and no more.


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Pictures for What the Town Hall Signifies

GRAND STAIRCASE, SHEFFIELD TOWN HALL
GRAND STAIRCASE, SHEFFIELD TOWN HALL >>>>
SHEFFIELD TOWN HALL
SHEFFIELD TOWN HALL >>>>

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