FORMER Bolton Council leader Cliff Morris has won a prestigious national award for his work to champion the arts..

Cllr Morris was has picked up the ‘Best Local Authority Arts Champion – Councillor’ title in the National Campaign for the Arts’ (NCA) Hearts For The Arts Awards 2018.

The awards celebrate the work of councils that have overcome financial challenges to ensure the arts stay at the centre of community life.

Cllr Morris stepped down as leader in December after 11 years. The NCA said he ‘put his money where his mouth is’ and that, under his leadership, Bolton Council ‘championed and invested in the arts, committing millions of pounds to redeveloping and expanding the Octagon Theatre, the Albert Halls and the Bolton Museum’.

It added that, despite the austerity the council has faced, the Octagon Theatre is one of very few producing theatres not to have received any reduction in local government funding in the past decade.

Samuel West, NCA chairman said: “Among an excellent set of nominees, Cliff Morris stands out for consistently speaking for the arts and putting his money where his mouth is. He gets it, and through his leadership, so do Bolton Council.

“Their support of theatre, concert halls, museums and festivals shows how an enlightened and committed council can put joy and art at the heart of their community.”

Cllr Morris added: “I am really pleased to have won this award. Arts and culture enriches all our lives - it is an important part of our heritage as Boltonians. While we celebrate the thriving arts and culture sector in Bolton, we must not forget the difference between Labour and the Tories. The Tories opposed us at every turn, despite the economic case and our strong tourism links.

“Delivering with less means all investment is hard fought and I am proud of the investment we prioritised during my time as leader of the council.

“The Albert Hall restoration, investment in our hugely popular Central Museum and our commitment to transform the Octagon Theatre — which is a true beacon of Northern talent — has set the foundations, to take pride in our past and inspire the future, for many generations to come.”

Bolton Tory leader, Cllr David Greenhalgh, responded: “It is unfortunate that Cllr Morris feels the need to politicise one of the few good news stories he has had in recent years.

“As Conservatives, and myself especially coming from an arts background, we fully appreciate and acknowledge the importance culture and the arts play in society; and we would always wish to be supportive of arts initiatives in the town. But that does not mean that we are not prepared to challenge and oppose such initiatives when we believe them to be flawed: Labour’s original £12 million restoration plan of the Town Hall, which included the creation of two cafes in the front of the building, to name just one.”

The council’s director of place, Stephen Young, was nominated for an award, but lost out to Lorna Lee from the London Borough of Waltham Forest.