SCHOOLS are closed and council services cancelled today as thousands of local workers strike over pay and pensions in one of the largest walkouts the town has ever seen.

Picket lines have been mounted outside schools, council depots and offices.

They have been manned from 6am, with a demonstration held in Victoria Square later this morning, to protest against government pay policies.

The joint action has been called by Unison, GMB and Unite, with the National Union of Teachers (NUT) and the Fire Brigades Union also choosing today to strike in anger at national changes to pay, pensions and working conditions.

Carers, bin men, street cleaners and teaching assistants are among the council and school support workers in Bolton taking the action, together with teachers and firefighters.

Joint trade union pickets and protests are taking place in Le Mans Crescent, Howell Croft, Wellsprings, Paderborn House, Castle Hill Centre, Wellington Yard, Mayor Street Depot and Breightmet Health Centre.

Unison, Unite and GMB have opted to strike in protest at the National Employers’ pay offer of one per cent for 2014/15.

Unions say their workers, many of whom are low paid, are being made to pay for a crisis they did not cause.

Bernadette Gallagher, secretary of the Bolton branch of Unison, said: “The action will send out a very powerful message to the government that enough is enough.

“The government says there has to be restraint in public sector pay until 2018, when the books are balanced, and that is completely unacceptable.

“Our members have had three years of pay freezes and a below-inflation rise — this means pay has reduced by 20 per cent since 2010 — and now the economy is improving and there is money.

“No-one wants to withdraw their labour and we are asking for people to get a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work.”

The NUT is striking as part of its continuing dispute with the government over pensions, pay and conditions of service.

Teachers will be outside schools, including Harper Green in Farnworth, and Westhoughton High School.

The rally and demonstration will start at 10.30am in Victoria Square.

Julia Simpkins, secretary of the Bolton-branch of the NUT: “This will be one of the biggest walkouts to have taken place in a long time.

“At the NUT Conference it was decided a strike would be called in June, but the decision was taken to put that back to July so we could be in line with everyone else.

“Teachers do not like going out on strike and the message to the government is the same. We want Education Secretary Michael Gove to take part in meaningful talks, but he has made it clear he is there to talk about the terms and conditions he has already imposed and not there to listen to what we say.”

Ms Simpkins said sustained industrial action over the last couple of years had forced changes, including making Mr Gove agree to come to the negotiating table.

She added: “The action is not just about pay, but also about education.”

Ms Simpkins said: “I am expecting a good turnout of teachers. There will be pickets outside schools before we all join the rally in the Town Hall Square.”

Bolton Council said it has been working to ensure emergency cover is still provided to help vulnerable members of the community Its phone service will be limited today, but anyone with an emergency should contact the council on 01204 333333 .

Sean Harriss, council chief executive, said: “The main message I want to get out is that the general public must know that access to council services and buildings today will essentially not happen.

“Refuse collections, libraries, adult and children’s centres — all these things the public would seek to access will not be taking place.

“This is a national dispute not relating to any specific dispute with Bolton Council.

“A set of national negotiations have been concluded and a pay offer has been made.”