BOLTON Council’s new leader says she is the oldest apprentice in town, but a ‘completely different person’ to her predecessor.

Cllr Linda Thomas was formally confirmed last week as the successor to Cliff Morris, to whom she served as deputy town hall leader for 11 years.

The former leader stepped down at the turn of the year, having faced votes of no confidence from within the Labour Party and unions last year.

Cllr Thomas, who has been a councillor since 1988, says her experience makes her the right choice to take on the top job and rejected criticism that she will not provide change.

The 66-year-old said: “I am my own person. I like to think that I was a good deputy, I think you have to have loyalty and I was very loyal to Cliff. I genuinely think the man has done so much good in this town that people do not even know about.

“The £1 billion regeneration of the town centre is his vision and we must not forget that.

“But I am a completely different person, I come from a different background and have my own views on things. I have got the backing of my Labour group, I was elected unopposed.

“I am the oldest apprentice in town. I have done a bit of everything, so I have a wide knowledge of right across the spectrum.

“I have done the business side of the council, housing, health, now I have the cultural portfolio for the whole of Greater Manchester. I am very prepared to engage with people and listen. I do genuinely believe that there are a lot of people out there with a stake in the town whose views I want to hear.”

Cllr Thomas, who first represented Westhoughton and now covers the Halliwell ward, has also called for a culture change in the borough’s politics.

She added: “We always had a saying in Bolton: ‘Bolton first, politics second’. Unfortunately over the last few months that seems to have gone out of the window. That is to the detriment of Bolton.

“The town has a warmth and we need to foster that more.”

Having dealt with issues of overdevelopment in Westhoughton in her early days as a councillor, Cllr Thomas says she feels like it is ‘Groundhog Day’ with the current house-building controversies around the borough — including the Hulton Park Estate.

She was also positive about the prospects of developers moving forward with the planned regeneration of Bolton town centre, saying that there are ‘quite big chunks of the town centre that people are interested in’.

Cllr Thomas added: “It is our main centre and it needs to thrive, that demonstrates our ambition as a town. I think it is the most ambitious scheme in Greater Manchester right now.”