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Chinese food firm awarded £600,000 of your money for factory it never opened

PUBLISHED: 08:06 30 March 2019 | UPDATED: 08:06 30 March 2019

Back in October 2015 Chinese food producer, Freshasia, announced it was opening a new factory in Little Melton thanks to support from the New Anglia LEP. Photo: Keith Whitmore

Back in October 2015 Chinese food producer, Freshasia, announced it was opening a new factory in Little Melton thanks to support from the New Anglia LEP. Photo: Keith Whitmore

Copyright © Keith Whitmore

A Chinese food firm given £600,000 of public cash to transform an empty warehouse into a dumpling factory has blamed Brexit for never completing the project.

The factory was meant to open in an empty meat-packing plant at Little Melton Food Park. Photo: ArchantThe factory was meant to open in an empty meat-packing plant at Little Melton Food Park. Photo: Archant

Freshasia was awarded the money in 2015 to revitalise an old lamb-packing plant in Little Melton and create 50 new jobs.

But what was meant to be one of Europe’s biggest dumpling factories still stands empty and when this newspaper visited Little Melton Food Park nobody had heard of Freshasia.

The New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) gave the Kent-based firm a £400,000 grant, while a group called Finance East loaned it another £200,000 in 2015.

The LEP and Finance East are given millions of pounds by the government each year to create new jobs and businesses.

But decisions about where they spend that cash are made behind closed doors with the press and public excluded from meetings.

The LEP awarded the grant on the condition that 40 jobs would be created between February 2016 and February 2019.

So far, none have and a LEP spokesman said “external factors” had caused delays.

The money was meant to be used to buy new machinery once the factory had been refurbished, but Freshasia said Brexit was the main reason for never working on the plant.

The Brexit referendum took place several months after the LEP approved Freshasia’s grant, but the company said Brexit had made it more cautious as its supply chain could change after Britain left the EU, making it harder to plan for the future.

They added they had initially decided to move to Little Melton because of the “big support” from New Anglia LEP.

The LEP spokesman said grant applications went through a “robust due diligence and assessment process”.

They said although the money had been awarded it had not been spent and was being held in an account by a third party, meaning it would only be released when the LEP approved it.

“The situation remains under review and should the project prove undeliverable, the company will be required to repay the full funding award, plus any interest accrued,” they added.

Fund manager at Finance East Stuart Ager refused to comment.

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