Phenomenal growth over the past decade has helped Brighton and Hove become one of the most successful cities in the country.
Soaring economic growth, dynamism, and population growth have given the city a place at the top table of prosperity.
A strong private sector ensured the city beat austerity measures with the creative, digital and IT (CDIT) sector cited as the powerhouse of growth.
Just one area was poorly performing – with a desperate lack of commercial and residential space.
The in-depth study by accountancy firm Grant Thornton found Brighton and Hove had achieved the fifth most rapid growth over the past eight years – behind Manchester, Birmingham, Milton Keynes and Bristol.
On dynamism and quality of growth, the city came sixth, behind Cambridge, Reading, Manchester, Bristol and Oxford.
On jobs and business creation the city was seventh and on population growth it was sixth.
The London to Brighton route was also identified as one of a number of key growth corridors which were “pre-eminent” in the UK growth story.
It was only in the growth of residential and commercial space that the city dropped out of the top ten to 17th.
Tony Mernagh, executive director of the Brighton and Hove Economic Partnership, pictured right inset, said the city’s high placing was no surprise.
He said: “The city’s economy has experienced phenomenal growth over the past two decades with every sector except the public sector more than holding its own despite the 2008 recession and subsequent austerity drive.
“Both the gross value of the local economy and job creation have seen Brighton in the very top tier of UK towns and cities.
“The real growth powerhouse has been creative, digital and IT [CDIT] growing at two and a half times the national average and this is likely to continue but tourism and hospitality will also benefit from an increase in real wages which now appears to be taking hold.
“Brighton offers extraordinary value for money for the long weekend break market and business tourism.”
But in order for the growth to be sustainable, commercial and residential space was urgently needed.
Mr Mernagh added: “To guarantee continued growth we need to deliver new homes and new employment space and to do that we desperately need to have our City Plan passed by the government planning inspector later this year.
“It’s no exaggeration to say that a lot is riding on her decision; keep your fingers crossed.”
One of the architects of the city’s digital revolution described a number of factors which gave it an advantage – key being the city’s “complex” relationship with the capital.
Phil Jones, managing director of Wired Sussex, pictured inset, said: “First, businesses here are very good at effectively integrating creative and artistic activity with technology. They feed off the city’s fantastic cultural vibe.
“Second, the businesses are really fleet of foot. They can and do adapt very quickly to new developments in technology or the way consumers might benefit from that technology.
“Third, there is a strong collaborative ethos in the digital community here. Businesses recognise that all boats rise with the tide and work to succeed together.
“The relationship with London is important and complex. We benefit from being close to the largest market in Europe, accessing talent, investment and clients from the capital.
“But we are also different from London, more imaginative, more left field, more forgiving. And of course, much, much smaller.”
He added: “This report confirms again what we all know, that the digital cluster in Brighton is successfully moving into the next phase of its development, as the size, international impact and reputation of the businesses here continues to grow.
“With companies like Brandwatch, Icrossing, DC Storm, Leo and many others now making waves worldwide, there really is an historic opportunity for this city. The hype is now justified.”
Councillor Geoffrey Bowden, chairman of Brighton and Hove City Council’s economic development and culture committee, cited skills, knowledge services and tourism as key to success.
He said: “I’m delighted that once again Brighton & Hove is being highlighted as a high-growth city, drawing upon on one of the most highly-skilled workforces in the UK.
“This success is based on the strong performance of our ‘knowledge’ services and our vibrant and resilient visitor and tourist economy.
“We have a world class cultural offer and an enviable reputation as a place to live, work and visit.”
Ron Crank, Coast to Capital chief executive, said: “We are delighted that Brighton and Hove has been recognised as a dynamic growing city, but the news comes as no surprise to us at Coast to Capital. Brighton has a very dynamic and lively economy that provides a fantastic place to do business and this report only highlights this.
“Brighton thrives as a result of its creativity, small businesses, digital and IT companies, great workforce and its attractiveness as a tourism destination and retail base.
“However, it is important to invest in successful areas for the success to continue. The Greater Brighton City Deal is investing £30 million in the city region as well as Coast to Capital’s new Growth Deal providing further investment.“
But a hospitality leader warned policymakers an obsession with digital growth should not be at the expense of food and tourism – a sector which employs a quarter of the city’s population.
Nick Mosley, director of the Brighton and Hove Food and Drink Festival, said: “Economic growth can only be seen as a positive thing for the city.
“Well paid jobs in any sector will mean more money spent in the retail, tourism and hospitality industries in the city which will further encourage an ongoing growth and betterment in our leisure and food offering for both residents and visitors.
“I would add a word of caution though based on recent policy.
“The apparent current obsession with the digital economy – not only in the city but also the wider region – shouldn’t be to the detriment of other key sectors such as tourism and hospitality.
“An RBS report this week forecasts that 10,000 new jobs will be created in the Scottish food and drink sector over the next five years with up to 15% growth.
“As a location with an amazing hospitality sector and world-class food production, we are perfectly positioned to take advantage of similar growth in our region, and I think that needs recognition and support too.”
EXCITING TIMES AT BRANDWATCH
HOMEGROWN digital marketing firm Brandwatch is one of the city’s fastest-growing and exciting companies.
It already employs 200 people and plans to hire 100 more over the next year.
Brandwatch recently secured a £13 million finance injection and is looking at an office move to match its ambition.
Crunch Accounting, created by Pure 360 founder Darren Fell, pictured, is another success story which shook up the world of accounting with its groundbreaking digital platform.
The fastest-growing accountants in the UK, Crunch is also frequently hiring.
Another rapidly growing digital marketing firm is Brilliant Noise.
The Brighton company recently made a number of senior appointments and works with some of the biggest brands in the world.
Probably the biggest home-grown company is IT group FDM which floated on the stock market for £300 million.
It was started in founder Rod Flavell’s attic in 1991 and has become a global leader in its field.
Start-up DC Storm is now competing on the world stage after being snapped up by a global e-commerce giant Rakuten Marketing earlier this year.
It was founded in 2004 with just three employees and now employs more than 60 at Frederick Place.
Seth Richardson, chief executive of DC Storm, said: “Rakuten DC Storm has always been proud to call Brighton home, and we remain committed to the city for the long term.
“We have been able to expand our staff from a highly skilled local workforce and world-class university, and although we are based near the sea, we have great transport and communication links to the rest of the country – and the world.
“Being part of Brighton’s thriving technology community adds to the buzz within the business.
“Along with other like-minded companies and industry groups we take part in events designed to inspire and support local people. It’s part of what makes Brighton the city we love.”