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Business Secretary Vince Cable was unaware Southampton’s Ford plant was going to be closed when taxpayers’ cash was approved for the company just days before, the Daily Echo can exclusively reveal today.

Dr Cable said he felt “let down” that more notice of the devastating plant closure was not given.

And he said if ministers had been aware of the closure announcement the Government would have gone back to Ford and asked “what on earth was going on”.

More than 500 employees now face the axe when Ford’s Swaythling plant shuts next July.

And as the fallout continues we can reveal today that:

  • The Business Secretary was only notified of the closure on the eve of the firm’s announcement
  •   Dr Cable questions why Southampton was never given promised investment by Ford which “seems to me the real story”.
  •  Local MPs are meeting Dr Cable at the House of Commons tonight to find out what promises Ford made in the past in return for Government cash.
  • Unions are also meeting today to rally more than 600 staff while a campaign to save the plant is set to be launched on Wednesday.
  • Southampton City Council leader Richard Williams is set to hold crisis talks with Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg in London today too.

Dr Cable, speaking to the Daily Echo after addressing the South Central Liberal Democrats Autumn Conference in Chandler’s Ford, said he knew nothing about the closure plans when he set aside £10m for Ford’s Dagenham plant.

 

But the veteran politician was unable to promise that the Solent area would now benefit from New City Deal cash – which has seen some cities receive tens of millions of pounds – as a result of the Ford bombshell.

However, he said the Government was committed to helping the south through the Local Enterprise Partnership.

“The Solent area has been quite hard hit and we clearly need to prioritise it and give whatever help we can,” said Dr Cable.

Meanwhile, Chris Huhne is one of the local MPs due to meet Dr Cable at his office in the House of Commons this evening to discuss the Ford closure.

The Eastleigh MP said Ford received public money from the last Labour Government as well as the current administration.

He added: “I believe the company made a long-term commitment to the future of the plant.

“It will be a very serious issue if Ford is found to have broken promises about keeping the factory open. We can’t have big multinationals running around giving assurances and then going back on their word when it suits them.

“We need to know how firm were the promises made to the Government of the day.”

Asked if Ford would be asked to repay any state aid Mr Huhne added: “Let’s see what comes out of the official paper trail and what assurances Labour ministers were given at the time.”

In other developments union bosses vowing to fight the planned closure of the plant are set to rally more than 600 staff today.

A n d Southampton and South West Hampshire Trade Union Council (TUC) is meeting on Wednesday to discuss a campaign to save the site.

Meanwh i l e city council leader Richard Williams is meeting Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg today to discuss the closure.

Under discussion will be the Government’s decision to hand Ford a multi-million pound grant to develop the engine plant in Dagenham just days before the US car giant announced it was switching production from Southampton to Turkey.