UNITED Utilities has set the lead for businesses across the north west by achieving the new Investor in Excellence standard.

The water and electricity giant became the first company in the region to gain the award after a site visit from Excellence North West (ENW), the area's assessment body.

United Utilities gained the North West Business Excellence Award for 2003, but the new standard recognises ongoing quality across all aspects of business activity. To qualify, the company first submitted documentary evidence to ENW.

It had to show it had addressed the requirements of the European Foundation for Quality Management Excellence model, a world-leading framework for achieving continuous improvement.