SCHOOLS, libraries and other services in west and north Wiltshire were forced to close on Tuesday, as thousands of council workers went on strike over pensions.

Lack of non-teaching staff meant Larkrise Special School, Trowbridge, and King's Lodge Primary School, Chippenham, were closed, as were libraries in Melksham, Warminster, Westbury and Trowbridge.

Picket lines were formed at various council locations throughout the district, and strikers held a rally at county hall in Trowbridge. The strike was called because the Government is planning to alter local government pension entitlements, and the unions are concerned this could mean a deterioration in pensions and a much tougher deal for workers.

Rosie MacGregor, south west regional convenor for trade union UNISON, addressed the Trowbridge rally. She said: "The support for our action is fantastic, and has been even better than I anticipated. "Pensions really matter and these Government proposals are really unfair. "The weather has held for our protest today, and they do say that the sun always shines on the righteous."

The unions want to see local authority employees given the same pension rights as other public sector workers such as teachers and NHS staff. At the moment council workers can retire at 60, but if the proposals become reality, this will raise the retirement age to 65.

Janet Dapson, UNISON branch secretary for Wiltshire county, said: "There is a lot of anger at these proposals. "To tell people they can't go at 60 on a full pension, while putting in about 40 years service, is pretty poor.

"A lot of people have planned to retire at this age all their lives."

In order to minimise disruption to services because of industrial action, local authorities put contingency plans in place. A spokesman for Wiltshire County Council said: "Since the strike was announced we worked to maintain essential services and minimise inconvenience to the public.

"We agreed a number of exemptions with the unions to ensure that critical social services continued, including some home care services and the emergency duty team."

According to the unions, further industrial action will be taken if Tuesday's strike does not force the Government to reconsider its proposals.