THE search will be on for a new chief executive to head up Wirral Council with the announcement today that Jim Wilkie wants out.

The town hall's most senior officer, who has been on sick leave since March, is looking to take early retirement.

Bill Norman, director of law, HR and asset management, confirmed: “The chief executive of Wirral Council, Jim Wilkie, has formally requested early voluntary retirement.

“His request will be discussed by the employment and appointments committee on June 7.”

Mr Wilkie, who is aged 58 and has served with the council for 35 years, had been leading the "turn-around" team tasked with improving corporate governance following a damning review by investigating consultant Anna Klonowski.

When the Klonowski report was published last September, Mr Wilkie was in no doubt of the magnitude of the task ahead, telling reporters: "The results of this inquiry represent the biggest challenge faced by this authority."

The £250,000 investigation was ordered by former council leader Cllr Jeff Green following a series of revelations in the Wirral Globe by ex-social services manager-turned whistleblower Martin Morton.

On the day the Klonowski document was released, Mr Wilkie told a specially-called press conference: "As chief executive of Wirral Council I would like to make it very clear that I fully accept Anna Klonowski’s findings into the failings within the corporate governance of this authority and would like to apologise to anyone who has been affected on behalf of the council.

“We will be taking whatever action is necessary to address the challenge before us.

“I would like to put on record my personal pledge that I take responsibility for ensuring the radical improvements needed in corporate governance are made and that we continue to strive to deliver excellent services that are responsive to the needs of our local people and our communities.”

But it is now clear he will not be in a position to complete the job and has been absent from his office for undisclosed reasons for some three months.

If the appointments committee agrees to Mr Wilkie's request the cost to the council of the early release of his pension will be £95,728, payable directly to Merseyside Pension Fund.

Mr Wilkie's predecessor, Steve Maddox, also took an early retirement package in 2010.

Mr Maddox was given the rare honour of being granted Freedom of the Borough on his leaving.

Anyone wanting to throw their hat into the ring for the chief executive job can expect long hours and plenty of anxiety - but the post is well paid.

Campaign group the Tax Payers' Alliance produced a "Town Hall Rich List" table which showed Wirral's top officer will earn around £145,700 a year.