Growth Of Municipal Ownership
Carved in the mantel of the library which adjoins the reception room of the lord provost of Glasgow is the motto, "Truth will prevail," and the triumph of truth is illustrated in the development of municipal ownership in the British Isles.
Probably no city in the world has extended the sphere of municipal activity further than the metropolis of Scotland—Glasgow. By the courtesy of the present lord provost, Sir James Ure Primrose, I learned something of the manner in which the city of Glasgow is administering the work that in most of our American cities has been left to private corporations. It goes without saying that Glasgow owns and operates its water system, ,for that is usually the first public work upon which a city enters. In this case, however, the water instead of being furnished to the citizens at so much per thousand gallons or at fixed hydrant rates, is paid for by a tax upon the value of the property. The city's water supply is brought from Lake Katrine, forty miles away, and a second pipe line has recently been laid to the lake.
Glasgow also owns the gas plant and furnishes gas to consumers at about 50 cents per thousand cubic feet. More recently the city has entered upon the work of supplying electricity, both to the city and to private houses. The tramways, too, are owned and operated by the municipality. The service is excellent and the fare depends upon the distance traveled, 2d (4 cents) being the rate for a long ride and ld (2 cents) for shorter distances. At certain hours in the day there are work trams that carry the laboring man from one end of the city to the other for 1/2d or 1 cent. The lord provost informed me that it was the settled policy of the city to use all the income from public service corporations in improving the service and lessening the charge. In some places the surplus, as will be shown hereafter, is turned into the city fund and to that extent lessens the taxes (or rates as city taxes are called in Great Britain). The municipal authorities in Glasgow have, from the beginning, opposed this form of indirect taxation and insisted that the service should be rendered to the public at absolute cost, leaving the people to support the city government by direct taxation.
Not only does Glasgow furnish water, gas, electricity and street car service to its people at cost, but it has undertaken other work still further in advance of American cities. It has built a number of model tenement houses for the poor and rents them at something less than the rate private individuals charge for similar quarters. These buildings have had for their primary object the improvement of the sanitary condition of the city. Slums in which disease was rife have been bought, cleansed and built up, with the result that the death rate has been reduced in those localities. These tenement houses are rented by the week or month and the charge for those that I visited was about $36 per year, this covering taxes and water. The rooms are commodious and well lighted and each suite contains a cooking range fitted into the chimney place.
The city has also established a number of lodging houses for single men and here lodgings can be obtained ranging from 31/2d (7 cents) to 41/2 d (9 cents) per night. The lodger has the privilege, and most of them take advantage of it, of cooking his meals in a large kitchen connected with the building, and also has the use of the dining room and reading room. One lodging house is set apart for widowers with children and is, I am informed, the only one of its kind in the world. About one hundred families, including in all 300 persons, have rooms here. Attend-ants are on duty to look after the children during the day while the fathers are at work, and meals are furnished to such as desire at a mini-mum rate.
The reading public is already familiar with the public baths which have for a number of years been in operation in Glasgow, and to these baths have been added public washhouses where women can bring the family linen and at the rate of 2d per hour make use of the tubs and drying room. I visited one of these wash-rooms and found that the number of people taking advantage of it during the first year was, in round numbers, 33,000, in the second year 34,000, in the third year 35,000, and in the fourth year 37,000.
London is also making progress in the work of municipalizing its public service. The city proper covers a very small territory; in fact, but, a mile square, the greater part of the city being under the control of what is called the London county council. The London city council has recently obtained from parliament the right to deal with the water problem and a commission has been created for this purpose and is now at work appraising the value of the different water companies which are to be taken over by the said council. The enormous price demanded by these companies gives overwhelming proof of London's folly in having so long delayed the undertaking of this public work. As there are no surface street cars in the city of London, the city council has not had the tramway question to deal with. The London county council has moved much more rapidly than the city council, and I am indebted to Mr. John Burns, M. P., also councilman for the district of Battersea, for much valuable information on this subject, he and Mr. A. J. Shepheard, with whom I crossed the ocean, being kind enough to introduce me to the members of the county council and to place before me the statistics in possession of the officials. The county council, besides taking over the water service, is also furnishing to some extent electricity. Just now the county council is putting down tramways and preparing to follow in the footsteps of Glasgow in the matter of furnishing transit for its citizens. Like Glasgow, the county council is also furnishing lodging houses for the poorer classes and by so doing is improving the sanitary conditions of the city. In some portions the council is erecting tenement houses ; here, as in Glasgow, the council selected the worst portions of the city and substituting modern and well-equipped houses for the unsightly and unhealthy tenement houses that formerly occupied the ground. Mr, Burns took me through one of these sections where about four thousand people are being provided with homes with every modern improvement and at very low rental. Finding that the death rate among the children of the poor was alarmingly great, the county council established a sterilized milk station and the death rate among the children has been very materially decreased.
Nottingham, England, was visited on the invitation of Mr. A. W. Black, until recently mayor. I became acquainted with him on the passage across the Atlantic, and found that he had interested himself in the work of extending the municipal control of public utilities. From him and the town clerk, Sir Samuel Johnson, I learned that the city, had been furnishing water to its citizens for about thirty years and gas for a still longer time. The price of gas has been reduced from time to time until it is now about 50 cents per thousand for private citizens, and even at this low rate the gas plant pays into the city treasury a net profit of about $120,000 a year. It is only about five years since the city entered upon the work of furnishing electricity, but the profit from that source is now nearly $45,000 annually. The city has recently taken over the tramways, and notwithstanding that it has raised the wages of the employes, shortened their hours of labor, improved the service, extended the lines and reduced the fares, it has now derived about $90,000 profit from the earnings of the tramways. This has been the rule wherever private services have been undertaken by the municipalities. Nottingham has a population of about 250,000.
I have taken these cities as an illustration, they being the ones concerning which I have investigated most carefully.
Birmingham furnishes water and light to its people, and has just decided to take charge of the tramway service. It already owns the tracks, but has been allowing private corporations to run the cars. The people have decided to operate the lines in the future.
In Belfast I found that the city had decided to take charge of the tramway tracks, the only disputed question being whether the city would pledge itself to the permanent operation of the lines, or reserve the right to permit private corporations to use the tracks.
Nothing has impressed me more in my visit to the British Isles than the interest which the leading citizens of the various municipalities are taking in problems of government and sociology. It must be remembered that here the members of the city councils receive no pay. The work they do is entirely gratuitous, and I have found that the councils are composed of representatives of all classes of society.
Many of the successful business men, professional men and educators are to be found devoting a portion of their time, sometimes a very considerable portion, to the work of the city. They at-tend meetings, serve on committees and carry on investigations, and find their recompense not in a salary, but in the honor which attaches to the position and in the consciousness that they are giving something of value to their fellows.
The fact that English cities are doing the work that in American cities is largely let out to private corporations, may explain the relative absence of corruption as compared with some of our American cities, but there is no doubt that among the people generally, service in the city government is more highly regarded than it is in most of the large cities of the United States.
I observed with interest the enthusiasm manifested by the officials in the work being done by the respective cities. At Birmingham, Mr. Roland H. Barkley, a member of the city council, by request of the lord mayor called upon me, and not only showed great familiarity with the work of the city government, but manifested an intense desire to secure for his city the methods that had been shown by experience to be the best.
Mr. Black, recently mayor of Nottingham, is a very successful lace manufacturer, and yet he seemed as much concerned about the affairs of the city as about the details of his own business. Lord Mayor Harrington of Dublin, Lord Mayor Dixon of Belfast and Lord Provost Primrose of Glasgow were all alive to the importance of their work, and seemed to make the discharge of their duties their chief concern.
In this connection, I desire to record my appreciation of the public service of one of the most interesting and agreeable men whom I have met in the Old World, Mr. John Burns. He began his industrial life at the age of ten as a maker of candles. He was afterward apprenticed as a machinist, and after acquiring proficiency in his trade followed that line of employment until his associates made him their representative in the city government. He was soon afterwards sent to parliament, and has for some fifteen years represented his district in both bodies. He is only 45, but his hair and beard are so streaked with gray that one would think him ten years older. He is a little below medium height, strongly built and very active and energetic. A diligent student, quick-witted and effective in speech, it is not surprising that he stands today among the world's foremost representatives of the wage-earners. He is opposed to both drinking and gambling. He receives no salary, either as a member of the county council or as a member of parliament, but is supported by his association, which pays him what is equivalent to a thousand dollars a year. With this very meager income he devotes his life to public work, and I have not met a more conscientious or unselfish pub-public servant, and yet what Mr. Burns is doing on a large scale many others are doing in a lesser degree.
I wish that all the citizens of my country could come into contact with the public men whom I have met, and catch something of the earnestness with which they are applying themselves to the solution of the municipal problems that press upon the present generation. It would certainly increase the velocity of American reforms, and arouse that latent patriotism which only needs 'arousing to cope successfully with all difficulties.
While it may seem that the leaders of municipal government in Europe are somewhat altruistic in their labors, there is a broader sense in which they are quite selfish, but it is that laudable selfishness which manifests itself in one's desire to lift himself up, not by dragging down others or doing injustice to others but by lifting up the level upon which all stand. Those who add to the comfort and happiness of their community are making their own lives and property more secure. Those who are endeavoring to infuse hope and ambition into the hearts of the hopeless and their children are working more wisely than those who are so short-sighted as to believe that the accumulation-of money is the only object of life.
Let us hope that the time is near at hand when the successful business men in the United States, instead of continuing their accumulations to the very end of life, will be satisfied with a competency and, when this is secured, give to the country the benefit of their experience, their intelligence and their conscience, as many of the business men of England, Scotland and Ireland are now doing.
( Originally Published 1907 )
The Old World And Its Way:
Homes And Shrines Of Great Britain
Glimpses Of Spain
A Word To Tourists
American Foreign Missions
A Study Of Governments
The Tariff Debate In England
Ireland And Her Leaders
Growth Of Municipal Ownership
France And Her People
Read More Articles About: The Old World And Its Way