The MG Rover Task Force is hoping for the best but planning for the worst, its chairman admitted last night.

Nick Paul said the group's first meeting was positive and members were able to approve a number of initiatives to deal with "the consequences of events at MG Rover".

The Task Force issued a JobcentrePlus telephone helpline number - 0121 254 5710 - for workers facing uncertainty which will provide advice and information.

Mr Paul said the helpline would offer advice on mortgages, other financial problems and employment opportunities.

He urged MG Rover's suppliers not to lay off staff in reaction to suspension of production at Longbridge.

In a message to the heads of firms which had been providing components to MG Rover, the Task Force chief added: "What we are saying to suppliers is please, if you possibly can, do not take knee-jerk actions to lay further people off, but come and talk to our advisers.

"We have got £40 million available to offset wages and to help with training. There is a team of 45 special advisers waiting to help suppliers, wherever they are in the country."

Members were also able to identify skilled job opportunities with other vehicle manufacturers, many of whom have come forward to indicate they might wish to take on workers from MG Rover.

Mr Paul, who is also the chairman of Advantage West Midlands, said: "Turnout today from the highest levels in the public and private sector demonstrates a massive determination to do the best we possibly can for individuals and companies affected.

"We are hoping and working for the best, but planning for the worst. Our task is to make sure that emergency support is in place for supply companies, MG Rover workers and the local community in Longbridge.

"We will be meeting every week now to make sure that this is on track." Mr Paul said the Task Force would advise AWM on what the region needed to do to deal with the consequences of the MG Rover crisis and to "ensure we have a thriving and diverse economy with job opportunities for those affected".

AWM estimates that up to 18,300 jobs at Longbridge and in the supply chain are dependent on MG Rover. Mr Paul identified three main aims: n Ensure that as far as possible companies supplying MG Rover are able to diversify, modernise and thrive n Support Longbridge workers through a difficult period of uncertainty and "if the worse comes to the worse" have immediate access to help in finding new jobs and gaining new skills n Assist the local community in adapting positively to the changes ahead

Mr Paul stressed that those on the Task Force were anxious not to do anything which might hamper possible efforts by MG Rover's administrator to revive a deal with SAIC.

"We are not assuming anything," he said. "This - the issue of possible job losses - really has to be a decision for others. What we will do is to respond quickly to whatever announcement is made."

Speaking after the meeting, Task Force member and Bromsgrove MP Julie Kirkbride expressed anger that the body had not approved a proposal to set up a job centre inside Longbridge.

The Tory MP - whose constituency includes part of the MG Rover plant - said: "I got the impression that Labour Ministers had nobbled the Task Force not to be talking about job losses at this point."