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Some Things that Councillors do


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An account has been given of the Finance Committee of the Corporation, as the committee which has a restraining power over other committees by keeping the purse-strings tightly closed. Here the work of several other committees must be referred to shortly. The Health Committee is more talked of, very properly, than almost any other committee, for its work when well done is of priceless value to the citizens. Sheffield in some respects is a healthy city. It is constantly swept by fresh breezes from the lofty Derbyshire moors, and the death-rate on the western side of the city is always low. But, on the other hand, the old part of the town includes many streets and courts where the people are densely crowded; and some of the trades, particularly grinding, are unhealthy, and consumption is very common. Great improvements have been made in recent years in paving streets and courts, providing a better water-supply, modernising the sanitary arrangements, inspecting injurious nuisances out of existence, and teaching mothers how to rear young children healthily.

The effects of this activity have been seen in a greatly diminished death-rate. For example, if we compare the average death-rate for the five years ending with 1912 and the average death-rate for the five years ending with 1902, and again with the average death-rate for the five years ending with 1892, that is, using intervals of ten years, we find the decline is from 22'6 per thousand in the five years ending 1892, to 20 T per thousand in the five years ending 1902, and to 15'4 per thousand in the five years ending 1912. Or, in other words, with Sheffield's present population, 2,237 more people would have died this year than have died if the unhealthiness was what it was ten years ago; and 3,427 more people would have died this year if the unhealthiness had been as great as it was twenty years ago.

The enormous saving of life and suffering may seem costly, when we reckon what the Health Committee spends on ordinary expenses and on meeting the cost of capital charges, but it is really extraordinarily cheap if it is set against the lives saved and the suffering prevented. The Health Committee spends on cleansing the streets, on sewerage works, on refuse destruction, and disinfection, on sanitary inspection and baths, about 190,000 a year, of which over 55,000 is for interest on, and repayment of, capital charges. The Baths receive in fees about 7,000 a year, but that sum does not meet the expenses of the baths by about 8,000 a year.

The Health Department employs between 900 and 1,000 persons regularly. Of these, about 850 are workmen engaged chiefly in the cleansing and scavenging of the city. The Medical Officer's staff of inspectors - men and women - numbers about fifty. Every well-tested scientific improvement that will tend to preserve the public health is adopted promptly in Sheffield, and the city stands high among the cities of the world for the wisdom and activity displayed by its Medical Officers, and the heartiness with which they have been supported by the City Council. Sheffield was the first city to adopt compulsory notification of consumption.

The above statistics do not include the City Hospitals for infectious diseases. These are four in number. Their cost is about 30,000 a year, of which over 8,000 a year is for capital expenses, and over 21,000 for maintenance and service. In the year 1914 the patients entering numbered 3,795. Of these only 222 died. The cost of each patient (apart from capital expenses) was a little less than 6.

The improvement committee, which deals chiefly with the widening of streets, has been very active within the last twenty years. Its greatest outlay was on the widening of High Street, in 1895 and 1896, at a cost of over a quarter of a million of money; and on building the Town Hall, which cost 187,500. The sum ordinarily voted to the committee each year is 6,000; but its annual payments for capital charges reach 61,500. This is the cost of improvements which have opened out the city, and changed it from an inconvenient and crowded town, in its central parts, into a modern city with wide and convenient thoroughfares and some opportunity for architectural display.

The Estates Committee was formed in quite recent years to manage the city's property on which building is likely to take place, and the allotments that occupy land in the suburbs which has been bought to build on but is waiting for a suitable time to begin. The city has two estates bought for this purpose - one at High Wincobank, the other rising from the bottom of the Porter valley by Bluebell Wood to the top of the valley at High Storrs.

The Wincobank land has been built upon to a considerable extent; but the upper part of the High Storrs estate has been used to excellent advantage for playing fields for the Central Secondary School and the Pupil Teachers' Centre, and the middle and lower parts, while waiting, are largely portioned out as allotments.

The city has built houses, chiefly for artisans, in various districts where land had been bought up for improvements, and some of it had been left over after the improvements - such as street widening - were finished. Also houses had to be built to take the places of those demolished for sanitary reasons in the slums. Thus, altogether, the Corporation has built, and lets, nearly 600 houses; and, besides these, there arc many other houses, not new, that, for various reasons, have passed under the power of the city authorities, as, for instance, where they have been bought for street-widening or other improvements, or where the owners have surrendered property for debts due to the city. So, as owner of houses, the city has quite a considerable business managed in the City Treasurer's department.

For allotments there is a great demand among Sheffield artisans, who take a keen delight in the cultivation of flowers and vegetables, and in 1915 the Corporation was letting 1,465 allotment plots, in eight different outlying parts of the city. The Estates Committee, which manages the dwelling-house schemes, the surplus lands, and the allotments, spends about 6,000 a year, almost entirely on capital charges for property that has been bought but is not yet paying its way.

The Electric Supply Committee has attained a most promising success against circumstances that were exceptionally unfavourable. First, the committee has had to enter into competition at every point with the Sheffield Gas Company, a privately managed business that stands at the head of all such businesses throughout the kingdom. The Gas Company has supplied light and power with great efficiency at extraordinarily low rates. The Company has always been, and remains, successful in a high degree. Hence, in Sheffield, electric light and power have had continuously to face keen competition.

Then again, the Corporation took over the Electric Supply on January 1, 1899, from a Limited Company at a very high price, and much of the capital with which the purchase was made has remained dead, or altogether unproductive. Notwithstanding these drawbacks, the business has been brought by the City Council to a position of pronounced success. The indebtedness of the committee for capital stands at about 875,000. But in 1915 the receipts had reached 125,000; and the profits about 13,500. The department then employed about 350. The capacity of the generating machinery was 35,000 horse-power.

The Markets Committee is another section of the City Council that has been struggling with difficulties since the year 1899, when the markets, and all the rights and tolls connected with them, were bought from the Duke of Norfolk for 526,000. The citizens generally felt that, whatever the cost might be, the city should have a proprietary control of the markets, situated as they are in the very centre of Sheffield. But, of course, the central position made the land of high value as a saleable property.

The market receipts at that time were about 20,000 a year; the general expenses about 10,000 a year; the profits therefore, about 10,000. But the payment of interest on 526,000, and sinking fund charges for paying off the purchase money gradually, amount to between 23,000 and 24,000 a year. The result was that for six years there was a considerable loss, and this has added 27,000 to the debt. The next eight years, however, if averaged, incurred no loss, but a very slight gain. The annual receipts in 1914 were 36,500; the general expenses about 13,000; and 23,000 was required to pay interest and the yearly instalment of purchase money. So the markets, though making little apparent profit, are gradually buying themselves as they provide the annual purchase money, and that is a kind of profit.

The Corporation has obtained powers from Parliament for rebuilding the Fitzalan Market and making changes in that part of the city, which will greatly alter its appearance, the new market scheme being mixed up with important street improvements. This is the part of the city where the most striking changes are likely to come during the next ten years.

The Parliamentary Committee is responsible for putting before the City Council all proposals for new laws that Parliament is asked to pass on behalf of the city; and it also considers new general laws passed by Parliament that may affect the city but have not been asked for by it. About every third year, a great city like Sheffield desires to do something which Parliament has not yet given it leave to do. All fresh ways of doing the city's business that may make new by-laws necessary, and all new capital expenditure, have to be sanctioned by Parliament, or by a Government Department in London. This involves great expense. The city may know exactly what it wants; but it has to send its Town Clerk, and other leading officials and prominent Aldermen and Councillors, to London to explain it all to people there who know nothing about it - a small Committee of about five members of Parliament or Lords - and, when it has all been laboriously and expensively explained to them, they decide whether the city shall have what it wants. Or, if it is a matter of expense only, with no addition to the local laws, an official from London comes down, holds an inquiry, and decides if the city may have what it requires. This may be wise in the case of a small place with inexperienced councillors, but it is a very undignified position for any great city.

The Watch Committee is responsible for the Police and Fire Brigade Services, and for the lighting of the city. It employs about 750 people, of whom about 620 belong to the police force. The police cost the city about 40,000 a year, and the fire brigade costs about 7,000 a year. Lighting the 12,000 lamps in the streets costs, with the illuminants, between 25,000 and 30,000, and there are between 180 and 200 lamplighters and cleaners. On the whole, Sheffield is a wall-lighted and orderly city, with very early habits of retiring to rest at night, owing, probably, to the early start in the morning necessary to reach the great works where so many are employed, and partly also owing to the distance from the middle of the city of many of the residential quarters.

The Overseers' Department collects the rates and makes out the lists of Parliamentary and Municipal voters. The staff of the department numbers about forty, and costs about 6,000 a year. The Parliamentary electors numbered 71,661 in 1915, and the Municipal electors 92,000. The yearly cost of municipal elections varies between 1,500 and 1,800.


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