CUTS to council services are being predicted after a higher than expected pay rise for town hall workers left the authority facing a "bombshell" £450,000 shortfall.

Opposition councillors fear a 3.5 per cent rise offered by negotiators on behalf of all authorities will have a serious impact. The council's budget, set earlier this month only set aside enough money for a 3 per cent increase.

Bolton Council are unhappy at the offer which was opposed by most urban authorities and are calling for a re-think in the way negotiations are conducted.

Liberal Democrat Cllr Roger Hayes, who raised the issue at a council meeting on Wednesday, voiced his concerns at the council's position.

He said: "This has come as a total bombshell. I don't see that there's any way this can be funded other than from department budgets.

"My concern is that they will try to keep any cuts under wraps until after the General Election.

He added: "I don't think council taxpayers will be happy seeing council workers get this increase when inflation is under three per cent and they have just had a council tax rise of 5.8 per cent."

Tory deputy leader Cllr John Walsh claimed the extra money which the council would have to find amounted to a "stealth tax."

He said: "We believe there will be cuts in services. If there are no cuts it proves there's too much money sloshing around the local authority and they have taxed people too much already."

But Labour council leader Cllr Howarth down played the potential impact of the £450,000 shortfall and insisted the rise could be absorbed.

He said: "It won't necessarily affect services. The departments have the opportunity to look at their budgets very closely once again and it may well be the can cut back on various things such as delaying the filling of vacancies.

"There are various ways department directors can try to spread the cost. If they are not able to do that it could be there are some cuts."

Council finance chiefs say measures such as delaying the filling of non-essential vacancies and the replacement of equipment should contain the impact.

Cllr Howarth stressed that the problem was not of Bolton Council's making.

He said: "This proposal was not supported by the majority of metropolitan authorities including Bolton. It went through particularly because the Tory shire counties and many of the Liberal Democrat authorities voted for it.

"We are not at all satisfied by the procedures that we are subject to when we can be out-voted by authorities which for whatever reason have much more money to use for this type of settlement than we have."