IN common with Huntingdonshire District Council, which has backed The Hunts Post Business Awards from the start, the Federation of Small Businesses has been a long-term sponsor - appropriately of the Small Business category. With an estimated 6,000-7,000 small companies in Huntingdonshire - anything from sole traders to firms with up to 100 employees - the sector is not just the backbone of the district's economy. It is most of the rest of the skeleton as well. The council was recently given more than £450,000 by central Government as a reward for its success in encouraging business start-up and expansion, and there could be more in the pipeline when a legal challenge is sorted out. It may not seem a huge sum in the context of public sector finance but, set against the £6.3million HDC takes from Council Tax payers, it is a significant contribution to income. Economic development is a key activity for HDC, which holds regular consultation meetings with local businesses, including consulting annually on its budget proposals. One of its most prominent guests on such occasions is Malcolm Lyons, who has been chairman of Huntingdonshire's branch of the FSB for the past six years.