Civic rivalry in the Northern Powerhouse

This issue of northern civic identity has come up courtesy of the Prime Minister’s ‘joke’:

We just thought people in Yorkshire hated everyone else – we didn’t realise they hated each other so much.

The issue being that the difference of opinion between different civic bodies as to the correct structure for devolution.  Within the ‘northern powerhouse’ there are excellent models of academic cooperation to contrast with this.  However, it hasn’t always been straightforward.

The founding of the civic universities was closely linked with the civic interests of the major cities.  Manchester had a head start with Owens College, but when it asked that this be raised to a University, there was a reaction from other towns and cities, and a federal university was created.  The Victoria University only had Owens as a member, but Liverpool’s new University College was admitted soon.  In Leeds, the Yorkshire College of Science had to broaden its curriculum into arts before it could be admitted.

It was Joseph Chamberlain who indirectly broke up this trans-Pennine collaboration when he obtained University title for Birmingham. Civic pride in Liverpool demanded their own university, and they petitioned to break up the Victoria University. Owens College was content with that, but the Yorkshire College was not. It raised counter-petitions and the Privy Council convened a special committee to hear the case for and against. It was decided that the federal university should be split.

The college in Leeds, having argued strongly for the benefits of a federal university, was given the option of creating a new federal university – an unwelcome concession. They wanted to retain the Yorkshire title, but its county-wide scope lent itself to the argument that they should allow other colleges to federate. Sheffield had such a college, and others towns such as Hull wanted to develop them.

The matter went back to the Privy Council – this time the competitive petitions were from Leeds and Sheffield. The members gave Leeds’ arguments short shrift. The file shows how the Clerk collated responses – and the copy of Lord Rosebery’s letter gives the sense of their frustration.


The Yorkshire University was doomed. The Privy Council calmly amended the draft charter from ‘Yorkshire’ to ‘Leeds’ and rapidly afterwards Sheffield had a charter too.

However, there was an outcome of these discussions – each of the new universities had a clause inserted in their charters that they had to consult each other about new courses to avoid unhelpful competition and they had to share membership of their Courts.  So, as the new civic universities embarked on their separate corporate existences, they were mandated by government to collaborate.  Different times.


One thought on “Civic rivalry in the Northern Powerhouse

  1. Pingback: New Providers, New Analogy | moremeansbetter

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