FORD was telling ministers it would preserve its Southampton base back in 2008, documents obtained by the Daily Echo show.

The motor giant said bringing the new-generation Transit van to the plant would turn it around and stop it making a loss.

The Daily Echo has obtained a copy of a memo from the conversation, between former Business Secretary Peter Mandelson and John Fleming, who was the company’s European head.

It can be revealed as 30,000 prepare to protest on the streets of Genk in Belgium today against Ford cuts across Europe.

It also reveals the minister was urging Ford to maintain its presence on the south coast if itwas to receive help from taxpayers.

Contact between the company and ministers has been under close scrutiny since the bombshell closure of the Sway-thling plant and the loss of 500 jobs.

And the Daily Echo has revealed the extent of taxpayer-funded support for the company.

A £9.3 million award was made through the Regional Growth Fund just days before the closure, with ministers admitting this week they had not asked for any assurances about Southampton before handing over the cash.

And an £80 million European Investment Bank loan – sanctioned by Chancellor George Osborne – went towards the company’s Turkish operation.

Hampshire MPs have accused Ford of “flying in the face” of commitments about Swaythling that it made to them.

And the memo of Lord Mandelson’s phone call with Mr Fleming, at the time of widespread job losses at the plant in November 2008, reveals ministers were given the same assurances.

It says Mr Fleming was “seeking advice on what to do with the plant”, as he did not want to lose Ford’s last vehicle manufacturing in the UK.

“Fleming thought the Transit could be manufactured at Southampton until 2011, then Ford could bring the new Transit to the plant.”

Between 36,000 and 40,000 units per year would be produced, it says.

The memo adds: “Transit was highly profitable and valuable to the company, so this would turn the plant around and stop it being loss-making.”

The memo also refers to the possibility of taxpayer-funded loans, adding: “[The Secretary of State] said he wanted Ford to continue as a lynchpin and to maintain its base in Southampton. He wanted investment and production in the UK to continue, and would try to do whatever possible to ensure that they had a future in this country.”

John Denham, Labour MP for Southampton Itchen, said: “I have made the point all along that when we were trying to rescue the motor industry, we expected something in return.

“I think it’s pretty clear that Ford made a promise to keep Southampton open, and that the Government, in return, encouraged them to apply to European Investment Bank funding. Ford have taken advantage of that funding, and they’ve now walked away from the deal.”