CLIFF Morris is to step down as leader of Bolton Council after 11 years in charge.

He will retire as leader of the local authority on December 31 and it is expected that his deputy, Cllr Linda Thomas, will take over in the New Year.

Cllr Morris, who will be 76 in January, said he believed the time was right for a change.

“I have great pride in the way that we have steered the council through an unprecedented period of change,” he said.

“I have been thinking about it for a while and I have looked at the pros and cons of retiring and I think the time is right now for both me and the town.”

'Vicious' cuts and ‘game-changing’ plans — Bolton Council leader Cliff Morris looks back on career

Cllr Morris, who has represented Halliwell for almost 35 years, said he would remain as a backbench councillor and was looking forward to carrying out case work for residents of his ward.

He is not due for re-election until 2020 but said that he would wait and see how long he might continue to serve as a councillor.

He added: “It has been a great honour to serve the Bolton family for almost 35 years and to have led this organisation over the past 11 years.

“I think it is now the right point to take a back seat and allow a younger generation of councillors to use their experience, energy and vision for Bolton to lead the council, and the town, into an exciting future.”

In recent weeks, Cllr Morris has faced calls to resign from members of his own party and key union figures.

The Bolton West Constituency Labour Party passed a vote of no confidence in his leadership, following a dispute over Cllr Morris' support for a fellow councillor at the centre of a town hall tax scandal.

Former MP Frank White and Sheila Jones — who held the town's most senior non-councillor positions within the wider Bolton Labour Party — were ousted in September after questioning Cllr Ismail Ibrahim's suitability to stand for re-election, while Cllr Morris said he had ‘no hesitation’ in supporting him.

Bolton Unison representatives also overwhelmingly supported a no confidence resolution in Cllr Morris and the town hall's wider leadership at a meeting on October 5.

In February, a petition with more than 3,700 signatures calling for the leader to step down was delivered to the Mayor of Bolton, amid angry protests over a £300,000 grant awarded by the council to the former Asons Solicitors.

Hundreds of people first protested outside the town hall after the Asons scandal came to light almost a year ago.

Cllr Morris said that 'some mistakes had been made' during his time as leader and that the way the issues of the granting of £300,000 to Asons had panned out had been 'regretful'.

He said that some of the more personally abusive attacks on social media had affected his family and that was something that upset him.

“Being in politics you expect criticism and some of it can be harsh, but nowadays with everyone being on social media, some of the insults can be particularly difficult to take. I can cope with that, but it has been hard on occasion for my family.”

He said that the council had learned from mistakes and that he would leave his time as leader with fond memories of the people he had worked with.

“I have been truly grateful for the loyal support that they have given me, in tough times as well as the good times and their support in helping to do the right thing for our town,” he said.

Cllr Morris said that one of the biggest achievements he was proud of during his time as leader was the development and success of Logistics North at Over Hulton, home to — among others — a huge Aldi distribution centre and missile company MBDA. Amazon recently confirmed that they would also be opening a massive distribution depot there.

He said this had secured many jobs and had been a major boost for Bolton’s economy.

Cllr Morris, who has three children, six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren, said he was looking forward to being able to spend more time with his wife Doreen.

He said: “Being the leader of this council demands huge amounts of energy and commitment each and every day.

“More often than not, this means early mornings and late nights, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year. My passion for Bolton means that I have always been happy to make that commitment.

“But change is constant and I’m not in the best of health.

“I am very lucky to have a fantastic family who have supported me every step of the way, through thick and thin, so I don’t want to miss the opportunity to enjoy a retirement with my wife, children, grandchildren and, to my great delight, my great-grandchildren.”

Cllr Morris will be stepping down as leader as current town hall chief executive Margaret Asquith also prepares to retire from her role.

As reported in The Bolton News last month, her successor will be the current deputy chief executive of Dudley Council, Tony Oakman.

Cllr Morris said: “Margaret will be greatly missed, but I am delighted that we have appointed a new chief executive with the energy, vision and passion to take the organisation onwards and upwards.”

Cllr Thomas said: "Cliff has given a lifetime of hard work to Bolton and he will leave a sold legacy for the future to build on.

"He has overseen an ambitious regeneration strategy, with the ongoing development in the town centre driving up footfall, broadening and bolstering our leisure offer. There is also the important investment making a difference to people’s lives in our townships across the Borough through improved day care and health provision. He has been a fierce champion of affordable housing regeneration and he has been instrumental in delivering many of the new schools that have been built. 

"Many of the big initiatives we are seeing come to fruition have been instigated by Cliff; the Interchange, Bolton Market, the Bolton One swimming pool, health and fitness centre, the shopping Centre Vaults, Cinema and the transformation of the land at Cutacre into a major employment hub for local people. Bolton is flourishing into one of the major economic centres in the region. 

“But closest to all our hearts is that there is no doubt that our children, young people, vulnerable and elderly residents of the Borough have been well served by Cliff's commitment to provide the best services possible and not least in a period of the unprecedented austerity cuts."