Don't blame me.

That was the reaction from the man who recommended Ford for a huge taxpayer-funded grant just days before the car giant revealed its shock plans to shut Southampton’s factory.

Conservative grandee Lord Heseltine said Government ministers were solely responsible for the award – which was rubber-stamped just days before the company delivered the bombshell, which will result in the loss of 500 jobs.

He said his panel was simply doing its job by recommending the approval of Ford’s bid.

But Southampton Itchen MP John Denham, said his comments showed the “incompetence” in the bidding process, adding: “Michael Heseltine has given the honest answer, but it’s also a stupid answer, and it’s not the way public money should be spent.”

Details of the handout, revealed by the Daily Echo, sparked fury in the aftermath of the Swaythling factory closure.

The minister in charge, Business Secretary Vince Cable, has said he feels “let down” by the announcement, while Southampton MPs have demanded to know whether Ford revealed its bombshell intentions when negotiating the grant.

The Regional Growth Fund is chaired by Lord Heseltine, whose panel assesses each bid for funding and makes recommendations to ministers on which ones should be approved.

Yesterday the Daily Echo asked the former Deputy Prime Minister whether his committee had looked into Ford’s wider plans for jobs in this country before accepting its bid.

He said: “No, that’s not what we were asked to do. We were asked to look at it project by project and to secure a re-balancing of the economy with long-standing sustainable jobs.

“My team made the recommendations to ministers purely on that basis. “Ministers either supported, or added to, or subtracted, and they are responsible for the ultimate decisions.”

The cash award to Ford, aimed at creating jobs in Essex, would have been signed off by Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, working closely with Lib Dem Business Secretary Vince Cable.

Dr Cable has told the Daily Echo he was in the dark about Ford’s plans and has promised to look back at notes of previous meetings to see what information was made available.

Mr Denham said: “This shows the level of incompetence in the Regional Growth Fund.

“You can’t rebalance the economy with a few grants here and there – you have to have a strategic approach to each industry and ensure that every investment you make is giving you the biggest possible bang for your buck.

“It is a fatal flaw that they agreed a grant to Ford without asking them about their wider commitment to this country.”