The search is on for the next chief executive of St Helens Council after the shock announcement that Mike Palin will step down at the end of this week.
Mr Palin, 38, took over from Carole Hudson in 2015 after the respected chief executive retired from the position she had held since 1991.
Last week it was announced that Mr Palin, the highest earner at the council with a salary in excess of £145,000, would depart from the authority this coming Friday.
A St Helens Council spokesman said steps will be taken “immediately” to begin the process of appointing a permanent successor.
No official reason has been given for the chief executive’s sudden departure and a council spokesman declined to comment on when or if Mr Palin handed in his notice.
However, it is understood discussions had been ongoing for several weeks before an agreement was reached over Mr Palin’s exit.
Several sources claim tensions between Mr Palin and some sections of the ruling Labour group had grown throughout the year.
It is understood the chief executive became increasingly frustrated over the summer as he felt the Labour group had not taken strong enough action to address poor behaviour and persistent leaking to the press, which Mr Palin felt was hindering the direction the council.
However, it is understood, from the council’s side it was felt that, with relations strained and a growing frustration among councillors over a perceived lack of progress in the regeneration of St Helens town centre, a change was now needed.
“The council felt it was time to push the reset button” was how one council source described the situation.
Mr Palin’s departure comes at a time of intense scrutiny for the council, with a two-week Ofsted inspection of children services starting this week.
However, a council source insisted the timing of the chief executive’s exit and the inspection are “coincidental”, adding that the wheels were in motion for his departure weeks before the watchdog confirmed the visit.
Opposition group leaders followed by elected members were informed of Mr Palin’s departure shortly before an official statement was issued on Thursday.
St Helens Conservative group leader Allan Jones said he did not know the reasons for the sudden departure but intended to start asking questions.
Coun Jones said: “I have nothing to say at this time. It is what it is.
“We will be looking for a replacement as soon as possible.”
It is understood Labour councillors have been instructed not to discuss the matter with the media.
Deputy chief executive Paul Sanderson will take on the responsibilities of the chief executive while a permanent replacement is secured.
In an official statement council leader David Baines said: “On behalf of St Helens Council, I would like to take the opportunity to thank Mike for his service and contribution to the borough since his appointment in April 2015, and we wish him well for the future.”