OXFORDSHIRE'S economy is performing strongly as it heads into 2018, business leaders were told at the launch of the Oxfordshire Business Awards.

Entries for the awards are now open, following the launch on Wednesday at the Sadler Building at Oxford Science Park.

More than 100 people from the county's business community gathered for the launch of the 24th annual awards.

Nigel Tipple, chief executive of Oxfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership, said more than 40,000 new jobs had been created in the county in the past five years, despite low unemployment.

He added: "There has been significant progress for the Oxfordshire economy in the past six to 12 months – in that post-Brexit announcement period there has not been a blip.

"The [Oxfordshire] economy is becoming much more dynamic – it has its own power and is not relying on London or anywhere else."

The awards ceremony itself will take place on Friday, June 15, 2018, and there is a new venue for the black tie dinner – Oxford Brookes University – a change from last year's location, the King's Centre in Osney Mead.

OBA chairman, Paul Lowe, welcomed awards sponsors and said he was delighted with the new venue, the university's John Henry Brookes Building, which won a Royal Institute of British Architecture (RIBA) Building of the Year accolade in 2014.

As well as a new venue, a new logo has been designed for the 13 awards.

Mr Lowe added: "The new venue is really futuristic and it's great to be working again with Oxford Brookes, which was a sponsor about five years ago."

Becky Rossiter, venues operations manager for the university, said: "We are excited and delighted to be hosting the awards."

Last year more than 500 people attended the awards ceremony at the King’s Centre, with finalists shortlisted for 12 categories.

Banbury-based construction firm Hawkins Group was the overall winner.

The company won the NatWest Large Business Award, and group managing director Mike Hawkins was named the Shaw Gibbs Young Business Person of the Year.

The company then won the overall Darke & Taylor Business of the Year Award at the end of the night.

John Baker, a director at Hawkins Group, told those gathered at the launch that winning the awards had a positive effect on business.

He added: "From our customers' perspective the feedback was unbelievable and our suppliers were thrilled with our achievement.

"Winning the awards has enabled us to cement our relationship with our existing client base."

The Oxford Mail's sister paper The Oxford Times sponsors the Charity and Community Award and last year's winners were Charlbury-based games charity SpecialEffect, which provides specially designed systems for people with physical disabilities to play video games.

Following the launch the OBA website is open for entries at oxfordshirebusinessawards.co.uk and will remain open until March 2.