ANY fears of a downturn in the economy were put to one side on Friday night, as nearly 200 people gathered in the City Hall in Salisbury to honour the cream of the south Wiltshire business community.

The Business Excellence Awards, organised by Salisbury & District Chamber of Commerce and Industry, were handed out at a glittering ceremony comprising a dinner, dancing and a casino.

The awards, in eight categories, were presented by a host of sponsors.

Chamber president Ian Hudson said the ceremony was the culmination of 12 months' hard work and the quantity and quality of the entries had "significantly surpassed" the chamber's expectations.

"This demonstrates that businesses are not only surviving in a challenging environment, but thriving," he said.

Bill Browne, publisher of Salisbury Newspapers, main sponsor of the awards, echoed Mr Hudson's words.

"Take one step out of the City Hall and we are all in danger of being hit by doom and gloom," he said, "but the doom merchants have got it wrong before.

"It is difficult out there and we have to work hard to make our businesses work, but when was this not the case?"

He said the awards were not just about business successes, but about contribution too - to the community, to staying green and to providing excellence in education and training.

"So let's leave the doom and gloom merchants outside in the cold and celebrate good business in this community," he said.