A SWEET factory in York which employs 350 people is to be sold imminently, it was confirmed today.

Monk Hill Confectionery - the second largest confectionery firm in York - based on the site of what was once Cravens in Nether Poppleton, will be under new ownership, possibly by the end of next month.

Among the two billion sweets that Monkhill manufactures each year are household brands like Sharps of York, Barratts, Jameson's, Trebor Basset mints and, at its Pontefract factory, Butterkist.

But parent group Cadbury Schweppes, which wants to offload the £80 million turnover firm as part of a cash-raising exercise, is staying tight-lipped about the potential buyers.

The deal will involve Monk Hill's Pontefract plant, its Cleckheaton factory and its Holmwood distribution centre in Chesterfield, which, with York, employ a total of 750 people.

Cadbury Schweppe's intention to have an auction was flagged up late in 2005, but there were delays following a fire which destroyed the Pontefract base. It took two years to rebuild.

A reliable source revealed that the legal processes for the sale to an unnamed buyer were now well in advance and ready to be sealed "either late December or early January".

A spokesman for Cadbury Schweppes today refused to discuss the details, but said: "We have always said that we hope to reach a sale in 2007 and that is still the objective. I cannot give further details about the specifics of the sale. It is commercially sensitive at the moment."

One big unanswered question is whether Martin Drane, managing director of Monk Hill, and a group of his fellow directors who planned a buyout, is now one of the final bidders.

Mr Drane said: "I am not telling you. There are a number of bidders in the equation and I am not in a position to say who they are. Cadbury Schweppes is going through the sale process in an orderly manner.

"A shortlist has been made, they have had due diligence and we are moving towards final bids. Cadbury Schweppes wants to complete the process as soon as possible."

Asked if jobs were likely to be affected, Mr Drane said that York remained part of his business plan.

Manufacturing was running at full stretch and "for the forseeable future" it seemed that jobs in York were safe.

He said: "It has been a long period of concern. We want to see completion and want to get on with the rest of our lives."