Whatever changes the ­independence referendum brings, what is certain is that the people on whom our most vulnerable ­citizens depend will respond with imagination and dedication.

For seven years now, The Herald has held an annual event to ­celebrate the best work in ­Scotland's public and voluntary sectors. Today we are launching the Herald Society Awards 2014.

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Austerity hasn't made life easy for the staff in public services, with challenges including welfare reform, rising living costs and housing shortages. Meanwhile, the nation's charities have found themselves stepping in to deliver services and address problems unheard of even a short time ago - such as the demand for food banks. The long-awaited integration of health and social care is also upon us, posing challenges for not just health and social services but for charity partners and sectors such as housing.

In previous years, our awards have highlighted the individuals and teams that deliver the best in public services. We are looking to champion the most creative approaches, the most ground-breaking collaborations and the most committed individuals, and share their successes.

Last year's winners included the Glasgow Gurdwara, which was presented with the Community Project of the Year award. The city's new Sikh temple invites people of all faiths and none in to lunch for free, and offers educational visits for schools, classes in English and computer skills, and volunteer opportunities in a programme aimed at strengthening the multicultural community of Pollokshields.

Individual award winners were Melodie Crumlin, of another Glasgow project, Possibilities for East End Kids (Peek), and Pat Strickland of the charity ­Cornerstone Connect in Airdrie. Previous years have seen recognition for youth-led regeneration projects, a hospital laundry recycling "grey water" and pioneering work with former drug users.

No other awards celebrate the best of Scottish public services across all sectors, from health to community care, schools and colleges, and from major third-sector organisations to individual specialist charities.

From today we are seeking nominations in 12 categories, including for the first time an award for social enterprises - the businesses set up to fulfil a social mission rather than simply to make a profit.

The new Social Entrepreneur of the Year category is backed by Firstport, the charity that offers free business advice and support for new social entrepreneurs in Scotland. Karen McGregor, chief executive of Firstport, said: "We hope this award will highlight the diverse range of innovative social enterprises in Scotland and inspire other would-be entrepreneurs."

The Unsung Hero award this year will be sponsored by EVH - Supporting Social Employers. A spokeswoman for the employers' organisation said: "We look forward to learning of the inspirational stories that lead to the nominations and meeting the heroes behind them."

One of the most popular ­categories in every year of the awards is Community Project of the Year. Gordon Sloan, chairman of sponsor GHA, Scotland's biggest housing association, said "We know that to really thrive, our neighbourhoods need wider projects which support people at every stage of their lives.

"We want to celebrate the outstanding work going on in this field and, in doing so, hopefully inspire others to get involved in their local community."

Another sponsor of this year's awards is YouthLink Scotland, which will again support Young People's Project of the Year. A spokesman for the charity said: "We are delighted to play an active part in supporting the Herald Society Awards."

A spokesperson for Glasgow Caledonian University said: "Glasgow Caledonian University's (GCU) School of Health and Life Sciences is the proud sponsor of the Older People's Project of the Year category, which celebrates the outstanding work taking place to improve the lives or lifestyles of older people.

"The School of Health and Life Sciences' Healthy Ageing research programme is focused on promoting positive ageing, managing age-related conditions and syndromes, and improving health and social care.

"As a University committed to the common good, GCU is pleased to play its part in the Herald Society Awards 2014 and to get behind those who make a positive impact in the community."

Harry Stevenson, president of Social Work Scotland, said: "Social Work Scotland is really pleased to be supporting these awards again this year. This has been a big year for us as we have re-branded from our former organisation the Association of Directors of Social Work and now focus solely on the leadership of the social work profession. As leaders of the profession we understand how important it is that the thousands of people who deliver and receive social work services every day are recognised and celebrated and these awards allow us to do just that."

As ever, our expert panel of judges will help us assess the most inspiring individuals, teams and initiatives, including the workers who go an extra mile and the projects which make a difference - and can demonstrate how.

Winners in each category will be announced at a gala celebration at Glasgow's Grand Central Hotel on Thursday November 6. The closing date for entries is Thursday September 25, and entries can be made online at www.herald-events.com/societyawards.

For more information contact Lynn Kelly on 0141 302 7410.