The race for the top job at Birmingham Chamber of Commerce is under way with hopefuls launching applications for the £115,000-a-year post.

A series of adverts have been placed for a "dynamic leader" to succeed chief executive Sue Battle, who retires in August when she reaches her 60th birthday.

Around two hundred people are expected to make a challenge, with current chamber policy director Jerry Blackett and commercial director David Draycott among the early front-runners.

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Mr Blackett has headed many chamber campaigns including transport, while Mr Draycott is involved in running the Business Link services.

But the Chamber will also consider new blood and a change of ideas as it approaches a crunch period in its development.

The organisation, which represents 4,000 companies across the city, is due to leave its Edgbaston HQ this year in preparation for a move to £80 million new premises.

It is also set to lose its administration of Business Link as part of a shake-up by Advantage West Midlands.

Outside candidates are thought to include Louise Bennett, current chief executive at Coventry and Warwickshire chamber, and Simon Murphy, chief executive at lobby group Birmingham Forward. Ms Bennett is a former policy director at Birmingham Chamber. Mr Murphy, a former MEP, was leader of the Labour group in Brussels before opting for a two-and-a -half-day-a-week role with Birmingham Forward in 2004.

Another external candidate could be Paul Richards, deputy vice chancellor at Staffordshire University, and formerly head of West Midland Development Agency before it became part of AWM.

Headhunters Veredus have been employed to conduct the search, while a final decision will be taken by the executive board of the chamber - chairman Simon Topman, and his deputies Rod Ackrill and John Crabtree. Mrs Battle has been chief executive since 1999. Interviews are expected to take place towards the end of February with an appointment decided in March.

But questions are already being asked whether the chamber will get the best candidate with the salary on offer.

A source said: "The hot favourite has to be Jerry Blackett. He is ambitious and heads up all the high profile campaigns.

"A longer shot would be Simon Murphy, but he would have to give up his job at Birmingham Forward, or he could bring it into the chamber.

"But the salary is very low for such a big job. Realistically £150,000 should be the minimum if you are going to get the best people from the private sector, especially when you consider young partners in law firms can earn £200,000 a year." ..SUPL: