Councillor Cliff Morris was Leader of Bolton Council from 2006 until 2017. Under his leadership, Bolton Council has championed and invested in the arts. For example, despite the austerity Bolton Council as a Northern metropolitan borough has faced, it has maintained its grant funding for the town’s Octagon Theatre. This makes the Octagon one of the very few producing theatres not to have received any reduction in local government funding in the last ten years.
More than that, he has committed millions of pounds of investment from Council reserves in redeveloping and expanding the theatre, recognising the cultural, social and economic impact that will follow. Similarly, there has been over £6m of investment in the Albert Halls – a theatre, concert and dance hall venue used by community and professional groups. The Bolton Museum is enjoying £3.8m of investment from Council funds to develop and expand.
Aside from capital investment and regeneration, Councillor Morris ensures that arts and culture are well represented in the borough’s leadership and strategic planning. There is a culture portfolio holder at cabinet level; a cultural strategy for the borough, led by cultural partners and supported by him and the Council; and cultural representatives involved in a range of Council partnerships and decisions, including the selection process for the authority’s next Chief Executive.
One of Councillor Morris’ key initiatives has been the Bolton Food and Drink Festival, which in a relatively short space of time has become the best attended in the North of England. This Council led festival includes a strong and growing arts programme that is part of the festival’s overall appeal and success.
Reflecting his commitment and interest, Mayor Andy Burnham has appointed Councillor Morris to lead on art, culture and leisure for the new Greater Manchester Combined Authority. He is the first (and we think only) cabinet lead for arts amongst any of the country’s new combined authorities and well placed to be a national advocate.