HEAD-hunters have been instructed to begin the search for a new chief executive to lead Wirral Council.

Recruitment consultants Penna will begin the process in December and the new boss should be in place by April next year.

The move was agreed on Monday, but has already caused a row at Wallasey Town Hall.

The leader of Wirral Tory group, Cllr Jeff Green, said the possibility of sharing a chief executive with another council should have been explored before pressing ahead.

But Labour council leader Cllr Phil Davies told the Globe he "profoundly disagrees" with the Conservative stance and that Wirral is sufficiently large and important enough to merit its own chief executive.

The current incumbent Graham Burgess surprised almost everyone at a meeting of the council cabinet earlier this month when he announced his early retirement, saying he plans to quit on New Year's Eve.

An appointments and employment committee was convened on Monday and gave the go-ahead to Penna to come up with a shortlist of candidates and provide a timetable.

Councillor Green said: "Before we ever got to the point of hiring recruitment consultants, we should have had a proper paper prepared examining the merits or demerits of sharing a chief executive with another authority.

"However that idea was voted down by the Labour group - and now we're steaming ahead before we've even assessed the possibilities."

But Cllr Davies argued: "Wirral is one of the largest local authorities in England - larger than major cities such as Newcastle and Derby - and as such it needs a chief executive who is clearly accountable.

"It might be okay for a smaller, district council, but I do not know of a single council of comparable size which has a shared a chief executive and I profoundly disagree with the idea that Wirral should do so."

He added it was "standard practice" in local government to bring in consultants to manage the recruitment process, and believes Penna's experience will result in finding the best person for the job.

Wirral's new chief executive will have a major task on his or her hands completing a £1.5m management restructure begun by Mr Burgess, as well as overseeing a series of multi-million pound cost-cutting measures, many of which have been hugely unpopular and attracted fierce criticism.

But whoever lands the job will be well paid for their troubles as the salary scale is between £121,000 and £135,000.

A "politically balanced" interview panel will be set up and assisted by a senior officer from the Local Government Association.

The council has just begun a year-long rolling contract with consultants Penna for senior management recruitment services worth around £15,000.