Glittering evening to reward the best in business

Norwich construction services firm May Gurney was last night celebrating a special 80th birthday present as it was named EDP Barclays Business of the Year in the EDP Business Awards. The black-tie event was held at the Holiday Inn Norwich Airport and is one of the highlights of East Anglia's social calendar.

Norwich construction services firm May Gurney was last night celebrating a special 80th birthday present as it was named EDP Barclays Business of the Year.

The firm, which began trading in 1926, took the top prize at the end of a glittering night watched by more than 300 leading figures from the world of business.

The award capped a spectacular year for the company, which earlier floated successfully on the stock market and now boasts a record order book.

It was also the first time a company has won the EDP Barclays Business of the Year award for a second time, with May Gurney also claiming the top honour in 2003.

The black-tie awards event was held at the Holiday Inn Norwich Airport and is one of the highlights of East Anglia's social calendar.

The EDP Business Awards, hosted by BBC East presenter Stewart White, were once again promoted in association with Business Link for Norfolk, which works with other business support organisations to ensure local companies have easy access to advice and support.

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It was the 17th year of the awards, which recognise the best companies and organisations in Norfolk, north Suffolk and east Cambridgeshire.

Judges praised the way May Gurney had transformed itself from a traditional contractor to a business which works closely on long- term relationships with its customers.

They said: “This company is a class act. It has embarked on a successful growth strategy, both organically and through careful acquisitions.

“This year it successfully floated on the stock market in a difficult trading environment, highlighting on a national stage a real Norfolk success story.”

The evening opened with an introduction from EDP editor Peter Franzen. He praised all the finalists for their efforts and welcomed guest speaker Anthony Habgood. He is chairman of Whitbread and Bunzl as well as a non-executive director of the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital NHS Trust.

After a three-course dinner, Mr Habgood entertained the audience with anecdotes from his distinguished business career.

He said: “I applaud the EDP and the awards sponsors for what is a relatively rare opportunity to applaud business success.”

And he described all the finalists as winners, who should be proud of the success they had achieved.

Mr Habgood said his years in business had been exhilarating, but also very hard work.

He highlighted the growing challenges of the emergence of India and China on the one hand and the changes in ICT on the other.

He told the audience: “I urge you to try to turn these trends to your advantage. Try to get on the winning side of these trends.”

Mr Habgood called for less interference from government in the running of small and large enterprises.

“We do on occasion feel you are facing an ever-increasing level of red tape,” he said.

It was a double celebration for May Gurney as the company also collected the Business Development award.

Judges were impressed with the company's spectacular growth over recent years following the implementation of a strategy to focus on long- term partnering agreements.

Awards were presented to companies in eight other categories.

The Time & Tide Musuem of Great Yarmouth Life won the Design and Development award. The museum was formerly a herring curing factory.

Category judges said: “The strong maritime flavour of the building has been preserved and enhanced, notably in the central courtyard.”

Since its opening, the museum has seen 40pc more visitors than projected.

Byfords café, delicatessen and B&B in Holt won the Staff Care award. Investment in training is significant and all staff are rewarded with a weekly share of the profits.

Law firm Mills & Reeve, which was the 2005 EDP Barclays Business of the Year, this year won the Community Impact award. Judges were impressed with its commitment to the community, which includes supporting a range of charities, with some 70pc of staff involved in some form of community activity.

Insurance business Digital Insurance Services was the winner in the Enterprise Challenge category. The Yarmouth company offers a service to insurers who need replacement mobile phones or digital cameras. DIS has a unique database that can match 175,000 products.

DIS also collected the Customer Care award, with the judges impressed with its customer contact strategy, which is designed to take into consideration the distress of a customer who had lost prized possessions.

The Environment award was given to Norfolk County Council for Norwich's new bus station which has turned an eyesore into a welcoming gateway to the city.

Innovative science business Anglia DNA Services was the recipient of the Best New Business award. Now employing 13 people, the firm provides a confidential, fast and accurate test to determine paternity issues from its laboratories on the Norwich Research Park.

A partnership encouraging good citizenship and stamping out bullying were at the heart of a successful partnership between Flegg High School and Norwich City Football Club. Their Fair Play scheme was the winner of the Industry and Education Link award.

t Wednesday's EDP The Business will be a bumper edition, with a 12-page souvenir section with full reports and pictures from the EDP Business Awards 2006.

WINNERS

t EDP Barclays Business of the Year - May Gurney

t Bidwells Design and Development - Tide and Time Museum of Yarmouth Life

t Business in the Community (in association with Targetfollow) Community Impact - Mills and Reeve

t Howes Percival Business Development - May Gurney

t Grant Thornton Enterprise Challenge - Digital Insurance Services

t Business Link for Norfolk Staff Care - Byfords of Holt

t Norwich and Peterborough Building Society Customer Care - Digital Insurance Services

t Persimmon Environment - Norwich Bus Station

t Shaping Norfolk's Future Best New Business - Anglia DNA Services

t The Exchange Best Industry/Education Link - Flegg High School and Norwich City Football Club