Prime Minister Tony Blair has pledged the government will do "all it can" to protect jobs at the Ford car factory at Dagenham, where 2,000 workers are facing redundancy.
The company is expected to announce on Friday plans to end car production at the east London site - Ford's biggest in the UK - as a result of falling orders.

Car assembly is expected to be phased out by the end of next year, with the plant focusing on engine production and other manufacturing work.

It is understood a package of measures is being drawn up by the Department for Education and Employment to offer re-training and other help to the workers facing redundancy.

Mr Blair told the Commons: "We will, of course, do all we can to protect those jobs that can be protected.

"We will be there ready to help with money, investment, help and advice for anyone that does lose their job."

The future of the plant - which makes the Ford Fiesta and employs about 8,000 people - has been in doubt for some time.

Softening the blow

Ford announced last month it would cut some 1,350 jobs at Dagenham and said further steps might be taken in an attempt to revive its struggling European operations.

But Ford is expected to try to lessen the impact of the ending of car production by announcing extra investment across other parts of the business.

An additional 200 jobs will be created at the diesel engine plant at Dagenham, but this could rise to several hundred under plans to switch production of some engines from the company's factory in Detroit.

The body plant at Dagenham could be in line for extra work and there is speculation of further investment at the engineering centre in Dunton, Essex, the Transit van factory in Southampton, and the engine plant in Bridgend, south Wales.

Ford is also expected to recommit itself to a multi-million pound plan to regenerate the Thames corridor around the Dagenham factory.

It is understood the plans have been given to Mr Blair, but Ford has refused to confirm any of the speculation, ahead of a meeting with unions on Friday.

Union officials also declined to comment on the job cuts before Friday's official announcement, saying they were waiting for details from the company.

Commitment 'broken'

Sir Ken Jackson, general secretary of the Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union, said Ford would "have broken the commitment they made to us guaranteeing car production at Dagenham".

London's new Mayor, Ken Livingstone, said the loss of up to 2,000 jobs at Dagenham would be a "body blow" to one of the poorest districts in London.

"We believe that the decision to end volume car production at Dagenham, and thereby in the UK, would not constitute good corporate citizenship by Ford, and, therefore, be in contradiction with their previous long commitment to the United Kingdom," he said.

"It would be naive to assume there would not be any sort of public reaction," said Mr Livingstone.

Ford, which employs 26,000 people in the UK, is reportedly planning to offer voluntary redundancies at its other UK plants to avoid compulsory lay-offs.

There are suggestions workers will be offered redundancy payments of up to £40,000.

The end of car production at the Dagenham plant would come as a major blow to the UK car industry in the wake of Rover's rescue by the Phoenix consortium.