Hope that traditional North-South gap is closing as Brighton and York forge ahead

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The Independent Online

Brighton and York share the honour of being the most profitable places in the UK to do business, according to an annual survey published today.

The award to the two cities – located at opposite ends of England – will raise hopes that the traditional North-South divide in the UK is narrowing.

According to Dun & Bradstreet, the business information group, 85 per cent of companies made a profit in the latest financial year.

Another four out of the top 11 locations for companies – Harrogate, Grimsby, Blackburn and Stockport – were based in the north of England. Meanwhile four of the bottom 10 towns were in the south.

Philip Mellor, a senior D&B analyst, said: "In the past this survey has shown a clear north-south divide but this year northern towns are well represented.

"This is a fair reflection of the mixed representation of businesses in these towns and cities."

He said the two cities share similarities that provided lessons for other civic authorities on how to boost their future economic performance. Both had good road and rail links and access to an international airport. They both boasted a university that provided a highly skilled workforce.

But Mr Mellor said the key similarity was the wide variety of employers in both Brighton and York. As well as a traditional tourist industry the Sussex seaside city had developed as a major business and financial service centre and had a sizeable media and creative cluster.

Meanwhile York has developed a growing reputation as a high technology location covering biotech, IT and heritage technology, which employed 9,000 people compared with the 15,000 working in the tourist trade.

Mr Mellor said towns that were heavily dependent on one industry faced the risk that there was nothing to offset it if that sector suffered a decline.

Earlier this month ITV Digital, which had become the largest private employer in Pembrokeshire, caused shock when it closed its call centre with the loss of 1,050 jobs.

This might be an explanation for the appearance of four southern towns or cities – Oxford, Borehamwood, Abingdon and Bracknell – at the bottom of the survey.

The four are all close to the Thames Valley corridor that saw huge growth in investment by the hi-tech IT and telecom sectors that have since suffered a marked slump.

The survey was based on D&B's analysis of the latest profit and loss accounts of the 50,000 largest companies in the UK. Towns with fewer than 60 firms were omitted.