CONGESTION charging could force small firms in Bolton out of business and put scores of people out of work.

That was the warning from firms after council leaders backed a bid to the Government for £3 billion for public transport improvements.

Congestion charging would be used to pay for some of that spending.

The leaders of eight of the 10 Greater Manchester councils, including Bolton, voted in favour of the scheme on Friday.

And by 2012 drivers could have to pay up to £5 a day to travel into Manchester city centre.

A second phase of the scheme could extend congestion charging to Bolton and other towns.

David Dobson, says road charging could see his firm 3D Haulage, which employs 16 people, struggle to survive.

His eight lorries deliver food to supermarkets in Manchester and throughout the region seven days a week from the firm's Chorley New Road base.

If each lorry paid £5 every day, the charge could cost him £280 a week - £14,560 a year.

Mr Dobson said: "It would cost us a fortune. We would have to look at the number of people we were employing and at whether we could carry on at all.

"I would have to try and get the extra money from my customers and that could have a knock-on effect on food prices.

"We already pay road tax so we will be paying to use our roads twice while lorries from abroad will only have to pay the congestion charge."

Kaan Erguvan, managing director of Goss Marble, which is based at the Raikes Lane Industrial Estate and specialises in supplying and fitting natural stone, said he was also against the charge.

Mr Erguvan currently employs 11 people and says he may have to reconsider plans to treble his workforce and buy more delivery vehicles if the charge goes ahead.

He said: "It will affect us big-time because we do a lot of work in the Manchester area and we probably have about four vehicles on the road every day of the week.

"It will increase our costs and we may have to put up our prices.

"I think this will harm a lot of small businesses like ourselves and some might go under because £5 a day is a lot of money."

The Forum of Private Business agreed that the decision could harm small businesses. Its campaigns manager, Matt Hardman, said: "For many smaller firms the charge will be unavoidable - they can't put their goods and services on public transport even if it is improved.

"Higher costs could have many consequences. For example, higher prices for goods and services will have an inflationary impact and make businesses uncompetitive with other regions. Cost cutting exercises such as redundancies or relocation will be considered."

Angie Robinson, chief executive of the Greater Manchester Chamber, said: "Our members have raised a number of concerns, such as how commercial vehicles will be affected by the congestion charge and these have still to be addressed.

"There is still of a lot of explanation required by the business community."

Bolton Council leader, Cllr Cliff Morris, has said he would oppose any extension of congestion charging to Bolton.