How the judging is done
All entrants to the Building Awards have to fill in a detailed questionnaire that asks them to spell out what they are doing across a series of important best practice areas. The questions probe a range of factors, from Investor in People accreditation and customer satisfaction to sustainability, partnering and innovation. The head of the Construction Best Practice programme co-ordinates the assessment for this award, and marks each firm to see just how well they are doing across all the seven areas of best practice.

The top performers
From this longlist, the assessors identified Thomas Vale as the best overall contractor, Pascall & Watson as the best overall consultant, Stamford Homes as the best housebuilder, Peabody Trust as the best client and Hills Electrical & Mechanical as the best specialist contractor. All were good, but the best of the best was Thomas Vale.

Winner Thomas Vale Construction
Against strong competition, regional contractor Thomas Vale won this year's Best Practice Award for its leadership in health and safety and its all-round excellence across a wide range of construction activities.

The firm has deep roots: its story began in 1869, when the young engineer Thomas Vale designed and built a cast-iron bridge spanning the River Severn at Stourport in Worcestershire. The bridge is still there, 134 years later – and so is the construction company that Vale founded. Today, the group's work includes building about 400 homes a year and refurbishing about 1000; design-and-build for schools and colleges; contracting in the healthcare, retail and industrial sectors; and specialist rail, steel piling and fit-out businesses.

It's not just Thomas Vale employees who benefit from the firm's commitment to health and safety. Under the Inside UK Enterprise scheme, outsiders can visit the contractor, observe what it's doing right and apply the lessons in their own companies.

The company has embraced the Egan agenda wholeheartedly. It carries out 70% of its work on a partnering basis, with clients as diverse as HSBC, Midland Housing Association, British Waterways and Malvern Girls College.