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Which Norfolk businesses are receiving taxpayers' money - and why?

PUBLISHED: 09:47 17 April 2019 | UPDATED: 09:47 17 April 2019

Bernard Matthews factory.
Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Bernard Matthews factory. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Archant Norfolk 2017

Each year millions of pounds of taxpayers' cash is given to businesses to create new jobs and boost the Norfolk economy.

Bernard Matthews factory.
Picture: ANTONY KELLYBernard Matthews factory. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

The New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) has dished out £20m through its Growing Business Fund (GBF) since 2013 to provide firms with a helping hand.

But after we revealed a Chinese food firm awarded £600,000 of public cash by the LEP has failed to build a factory and create the 50 new jobs it pledged questions have been raised about the scheme's effectiveness.

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Decisions on who gets the money are made behind closed doors but a Freedom of Information request from this newspaper can reveal which businesses are benefiting the most from these grants and how they came to receive the cash.

Bernard Matthews factory.
Picture: ANTONY KELLYBernard Matthews factory. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Bernard Matthews

The biggest beneficiary of LEP money is poultry firm Bernard Matthews – which to date has received more than £2m.

Under normal circumstances GBF grants are limited to £500,000 but Bernard Matthews was awarded £1.3m with an additional £896,605 coming from a separate pot of LEP money called the Growing Places Fund (GPF).

Natures Menu pet food factory. MD Craig Taylor.
Picture: ANTONY KELLYNatures Menu pet food factory. MD Craig Taylor. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

The LEP says it approved a grant of £2.6m in 2017 towards a £17.3m investment in Bernard Matthews' Great Witchingham headquarters.

The LEP said the money was used to refurbish its factory, put in new production lines and create 400 new jobs.

“It also secured the future of the entire Great Witchingham site and workforce, which was under threat had it not secured the additional investment,” a spokesman said.

Natures Menu pet food factory.
Picture: ANTONY KELLYNatures Menu pet food factory. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

“Our investment secured the future of a key business and helped protect the significant supply chain of local businesses at a time where consolidation within the 2Sisters Group could have meant the closure of part or all of the business.”

In September 2016, Bernard Matthews was taken over by the Chicken King, Ranjit Singh Boparan, who also owns the 2Sisters group.

Its holding company Amber Rei Holdings turned over more than £600m in 2018.

Natures Menu pet food factory.
Picture: ANTONY KELLYNatures Menu pet food factory. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Bernard Matthews has not responded to requests for comment.

Pasta Foods

Between 2013 and 2015 the UK's only dried pasta manufacturer received almost £3m in grant and loan payments to help establish its Costessey factory.

The £500,000 grant from the LEP helped the firm purchase the factory and create 51 new jobs.

Pasta Foods has also paid back £2.39m in loans given to it by the LEP.

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A LEP spokesman added: “This is a local business with significant growth prospects. The company had been experiencing difficulty with getting support from banks for its expansion plans.

“Our role is to support growing firms in these circumstances and as the company itself will testify – it would not have been able to deliver its growth without our support.”

Natures Menu

This Norfolk pet food producer specialises in raw food and has benefited hugely from the market's shift towards natural pet food.

In 2014, it received £127,500 grant to support an initial expansion which created 13 jobs.

A further £500,000 grant in 2017 supported the construction its new Snetterton factory, which has created 50 further jobs.

Proserv

The Norfolk engineering firm made headlines last year when it announced it would be cutting 22 jobs just months after moving into its new £8m Great Yarmouth base.

The new base was funded in part by a £1.5 loan from the GPF – with a further £200,000 GBF grant in 2017 intended to secure jobs.

A LEP spokesman said: “The condition of the £200,000 grant issued to Proserv was around the retention of jobs.

“The grant was issued as part of the LEP's Oil and Gas Taskforce which was established to provide support to the region's oil and gas businesses at a time when the downturn in the oil price was leading to thousands of job losses in the sector.

“The vast majority of the jobs have been retained at Proserv's Great Yarmouth site as a consequence of the grant.”

The LEP is currently being repaid the loan with interest through Great Yarmouth Borough Council who act as Proserv's landlord.

Elsewhere, Hingham aircraft seating manufacturer Mirus Aircraft, was awarded £368,000 to create a state-of-the-art facility.

Between 2015 and 2017 it increased its staff from six to more than 50.

Norwich's software start-up Epos Now received £365,000, while Monk Plant Hire, also based in the city, got £365,000.

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