LAST year waste management company Grundon scooped the county's top large business award.

This time round at the Oxfordshire Business Awards the Benson-based waste management firm is still thinking big.

But it has chosen to enter a different category, the Oxfordshire Apprenticeships Apprenticeship of the Year Award.

This accolade is open to all businesses regardless of sector or size, and relates to the government-funded and regulated Apprenticeship scheme.

There are 15 awards, including a new Food and Drink Producer of the Year Award, sponsored by caterers Oxford Fine Dining, and the chairman is once again Paul Lowe.

Judges' visits are being completed this month, and a gala dinner will be held at the Oxford Thames Four Pillars Hotel, in Sandford-on-Thames, on Friday, June 17, when the award winners will be announced.

Entries have now closed, with more than 300 businesses competing.

In June last year Grundon Waste Management walked away with the prestigious title of The NatWest Large Business Award at the awards ceremony

The firm's entry beat strong competition from fellow finalists Ability Matters Group and Polythene UK, impressing judges with its business achievements, innovation and commitment to the local community.

Grundon Waste Management spokesman Anthony Foxlee-Brown said the firm was keen to focus on attracting drivers for large goods vehicles.

In December eight trainee LGV drivers went out on the road after completing their apprenticeships with Grundon.

Their success marked the latest stage in Grundon’s strategy to help tackle the shortfall of 60,000 LGV drivers nationwide through its driver apprenticeship programme.

Mr Foxlee-Brown said: "A lot of our business relies on drivers - we need them for our waste collection vehicles.

"There's a lot of competition for drivers at the moment so through apprenticeships we can 'grow' our own drivers.

"We have about 750 staff in total and Benson is right at the heart of our operations - we also have depots in Ewelme and Banbury.

"Winning the award was a real highlight for staff."

Last year's award was presented to Clayton Sullivan-Webb, managing director of Grundon, who said at the time: "We’re absolutely delighted to have been announced as the winner of The NatWest Large Business Award.

"With headquarters in Oxfordshire and having a significant proportion of our operations based in the county, receiving this award means a lot to Grundon.

"To be recognised as a business that has shown continued growth and development over the past year, along with a commitment to our customers, our staff, the local community and the economic growth of the region is very satisfying, and is testament to our fantastic team of people."

The Large Business Award category was open to Oxfordshire-based businesses that employ more than 25 staff or have an annual turnover of more than £5m.

The awards were officially launched in December at sponsor Inchcape Mercedes-Benz’s showroom in Langford Lane, Kidlington.

Among those who have entered are other winners from last year.

Lee McQueen, who won The Apprentice TV show in 2008, was named Young Business Person of the Year and his firm, Raw Talent Academy in Watlington, was named Small Business of the Year.

Mr McQueen, 38, from Aston Rowant, near Thame, said earlier: "At the business awards last year when they called out my name, first for the individual award and then for the team award, it was a fantastic feeling.

"You take a risk when you start your own business from scratch and it’s great when you get rewarded for that – winning the awards is up there with my top two or three achievements."

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