Union leaders who have been called to a meeting with Ford bosses this morning amid fears for the future of its Southampton factory said it was a “very worrying time” for staff.

Stephen Odell, chairman and chief executive of Ford of Europe, will meet personally with union officials from Ford sites around the country to give them the news of the company’s “transformation” plan for Europe.

The Southampton plant, which has been making Transit vans since 1972, has had its workforce reduced in recent years to just 500, operating on a single shift.

Speaking outside the Swaythling plant yesterday Peter Dance, a Unite trade union representative at the factory, said: “I shall be going to the meeting at 10am.

“They will be making a disclosure as to what their plans are.

“There are lots of rumours but it would be purely speculation to suggest what is going to happen.

“Clearly losses have been made by the motor industry and there’s an overcapacity.”

Unite assistant general secretary Tony Burke said last night: “This is a very worrying time for the UK workforce.

“Unite is currently working hard alongside its European colleagues to get clarity about Ford’s plans but the union will not be adding to the current speculation.”

Ford employs around 11,400 workers in the UK at plants including Dagenham in Essex, Halewood on Merseyside and Bridgend in south Wales.