Wirral Council's most senior legal officer has left the authority with a payment of £146,000.

Bill Norman was one of four chief officers suspended from work in the wake of a critical report by auditors investigating the way an "outsourced" highways contract had been handled.

An independent consultant commissioned by the town hall to undertake a preliminary review of Mr Norman's actions concluded the head of legal and HR had "no case to answer" and that he should be immediately allowed to return to work.

Birkenhead MP Frank Field, who led the push for an audit probe, tonight described the announcement as "disappointing."

During the period that Mr Norman was suspended, the council's new chief executive, Graham Burgess, had begun a restructure of his senior officer team and in light of this, Mr Norman's legal representatives approached the authority and requested he be allowed to leave.

His request has been accepted by Mr Burgess, who said today: "Mr Norman will leave under a compromise agreement but I wish to stress this does not include a confidentiality clause.

"The planned senior management restructure will enable the council to make an overall saving to contribute to the budget deficit.

“We wish to thank Mr Norman for his service to Wirral and wish him well for the future.

"There has been a period of upheaval at Wirral Council. Some things we have not done well, but it is all fixable.

"All the political group leaders are committed to making the necessary changes to bring this about.

"It is my belief that we will have turned this council's performance around completely in two years' time."

A breakdown of costs associated with Mr Norman's departure shows a termination payment of £112,848, redundancy of £28,568 and the council has agreed to pay his legal costs of £10,000.

Mr Norman has become the third chief officer to leave in the last fortnight.

Former finance director Ian Coleman, who was suspended from work at the same time as Mr Norman, was permitted to take early retirement at a cost of £82,000.

It has also been disclosed that another leading officer has been released from the council.

The authority's chief internal auditor David Garry left under voluntary severance on September 30.

Mr Garry was on "flexible retirement" and already has access to his pension. He receives a redundancy cheque for £35,256 and other payments bring the total package up to £46,584.

The council's technical services director, David Green, is still suspended from work, as is another senior officer from the finance department.

They were suspended following publication of the Audit Commission's inquiry into how the council handled a £40m highways contract outsourced by a competetive tendering process to the Colas company.

The four main criticisms of Wirral Council set out in the commission's document were:

The director of technical services probably broke EU Treaty rules as well as council procedures by meeting a representative of the successful contract bidder;

The director should have made a declaration of his relationship with the contractor before he did so, and when he did it was incomplete and inconsistent with other evidence.

Inadequate tender evaluation resulted in the contract costing Wirral Council at least £1.4m more than anticipated when awarding it - and not all costs have been quantified yet;

The council does not demonstrate good governance.

The inquiry said councillors were not kept informed of problems nor was their approval sought for £1.4m of extra spending which became necessary as the highway maintenance works progressed.

The investigation was sparked after a group of highways department whistle-blowers raised their concerns with Frank Field, who said tonight: "It is disappointing that a high-ranking officer of the council, against whom no fault was found, prefers to take nearly £150,000 of taxpayers' money and leave rather than go back to his job."