THEY'RE taking the mick.

That was Southampton's council leaders reaction to revelations that the Government has handed a multi-million pound cash deal to Ford just days before announcing the closure of Southampton's factory.

Now Cllr Richard Williams is set to take the matter to the top when he holds face to face talks over the crisis with deputy prime minister Nick Clegg next week.

The meeting on Monday comes as the Government is refusing to say whether it knew about Ford's closure plans when it handed it the cash-boost. But it appears the shock plans were not raised as part of the bidding process for the Regional Growth Fund Cash - and there is no chance of the offer being withdrawn in light of the bombshell.

As previously reported, Ford was approved for a share of £37 million, along with three other companies, to develop low-carbon engines in Essex.

Days later, it announced the closure of the Southampton plant and the loss of 500 jobs.

Asked what should happen to the cash Richard Williams, said: “For a start, it shouldn't go there, if they are reneging on their commitment to the community from the point of view of development that we need down here.

"We should not be giving public money to private sector companies that renege on their commitments.

"They say it's a separate project, but taxpayers in Swaythling are still paying for it."

Southampton Itchen MP John Denham, a former Business Spokesman for Labour, said the "big question" was whether the government had asked the right questions when negotiating the award.

Nick Evans, of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, said: "Bids submitted to the Regional Growth Fund are submitted on the basis that they are stand-alone projects. Bids are compared against each other - it's a competitive process."

While the final decision on grants belongs to ministers, the recommendations come from an independent panel chaired by Lord Heseltine, he said.

Mr Evans insisted the bidding process was transparent.

He added: "I am not going to talk about discussions that we had as part of the selection process, because I am not in a position to do that."

The size of the award to Ford is being kept confidential, and the company has not yet received the cash.

All that remains is for due diligence tests to be carried out. But these checks will only be within the framework of the original bid, the government said yesterday.

There are sure to be further questions for ministers in Parliament next week as local MPs seek to fix up a debate on issue.

Caroline Nokes, the MP for Romsey and Southampton North, said she took a "pragmatic" view of the cash award to Ford, saying: "What we need to do is focus our best efforts on getting support for the employees."

Cllr Williams said one use for the cash could be to bring the Ford site back to use as an employment site.


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