Press reports say the British Trade and Industry Secretary Stephen Byers has promised Vauxhall workers help after yesterday's shock move to cut production at the Bedfordshire Vectra factory. Ministers have unveiled plans for a rapid response unit to help workers find other jobs when car production ends in 15 months' time.

Vauxhall chairman Nick Reilly said he hoped many of the redundancies could be achieved through voluntary means, with up to 1,000 workers given the chance to transfer to a nearby van plant.

Prime Minister Tony Blair led reaction to the cutback, describing it as "very bad news". The blow came as the Government hoped new unemployment figures released today (13/12/00) would resume their downward trend towards the one million mark.

Union officials have warned of fierce resistance to Vauxhall's decision, taken in response to over-capacity in the European car market. Workers have already staged an unofficial walk-out and have besieged the Vauxhall offices, seeking a meeting with Reilly.

The announcement ends a grim year for the motor industry following the trauma caused by the break-up of the Rover group and the decision by Ford to end car production at its plant in Dagenham, east London.

Vauxhall blamed "rapidly changing" European market conditions and over-capacity for the announcement, which took the industry by complete surprise. The firm's owners, General Motors, the world's biggest carmaker, has also announced plans to cut jobs in North America and in other European countries, including 2,000 in Germany.