SCHOOLS and libraries across Cambridgeshire are expected to close or have to restrict their opening hours next Wednesday as thousands of public sector workers join a strike over pensions.

As many as 5,000 are expected at a rally in Cambridge when two marches involving aggrieved central and local government employees converge on Parker's Piece from their starting points at Addenbrooke's Hospital and Cambridgeshire Council's Shire Hall headquarters.

The county council has not yet fully assessed the likely impact of the first of what could be a series of stoppages, but a spokesman confirmed yesterday that schools and libraries were among council services likely to be affected.

"There will obviously be impacts," a spokesman said. "Schools and libraries will be affected by closures or reduced hours, but we can't yet predict what the impacts will be."

He promised to keep the public fully informed through the media, but said employees caring for vulnerable people were exempt from the strike call and were expected to work normally.

However, the trade unions are expecting widespread school and office closures as head teachers join junior colleagues in the protest action.

Steve Sweeney, secretary of Huntingdon and St Neots Trades Council and a Unison official who works for the county council, told The Hunts Post: "We are expecting a lot of places to be closed across the county and a lot of workplaces to be picketed, including Hinchingbrooke Hospital, where staff have been balloting and look likely to be out."

But he, too, stressed that vulnerable people would not be put at risk. "That's the last thing we want when we are trying to win public support."

Nationally, more people are expected to down tools next Wednesday than during the General Strike [in 1926], he added.

In addition to local government workers and teachers, civil servants and NHS employees are expected to join the protest about the coalition Government's plans to make public servants work longer and contribute more for pension that for many would be lower than their current expectations.

"We've been talking to the police about the marches and rally, and we're expecting between 4,000 and 5,000 to be at the rally now that the bigger unions have entered the dispute."

Huntingdonshire District Council said the dispute was not one it could resolve locally.

"We are monitoring proposed strike action and assessing what impact it may have on council services," a spokesman said.

"Every effort is being made to minimise the effect of this national strike on residents and the council, and we aim to ensure that services are maintained as far as is possible.

"We do not expect there to be any major impact on services the district council provides within the 24-hour period of industrial action, but contingency plans have been put in place to ensure that any disruption is kept to a minimum.

"We are monitoring the situation closely and will keep residents informed of any further developments on how the national strike may impact services, if necessary."

The MOD promised to look into the likely impact of the strikes by civil servants at RAF Wyton and RAF Brampton but had not responded by the time The Hunts Post went to press.