Stephen Hughes hasn't even been handed the keys to his office yet, but last night his appointment as Birmingham City Council's new boss was already creating political ructions.

In what appears to be the latest in a long string of problems to hit the cursed post of chief executive, the recommendation Mr Hughes should have the #175,000-a-year job has angered Labour councillors.

Yesterday, in a leak bound to embarrass Mr Hughes, it emerged that a panel formed to fill the biggest job in local government was actually split over his appointment - despite him having been the interim chief executive since Lin Homer left last year.

Three Labour members voted for an alternative shortlisted candidate who they felt had out-performed Mr Hughes at the final interview stage. However, Conservative and Liberal Democrat councillors proceeded to select Mr Hughes.

The panel's recommendation is expected to be approved by the full council, where the Tory-Lib Dem coalition has a large majority, but it remains a possibility that Labour will express their disapproval or - in an unprecedented move - even vote against him.

Wrangles around the appointment of Mr Hughes, a 52-year-old Cambridge graduate, are the latest example of difficulties faced by Birmingham in finding a council chief executive.

Lin Homer, the previous post-holder who stayed in office for less than three years, was not the first choice. The then Labour-controlled council wanted to appoint Valerie Lemmie, an American city manager, but she rejected the job.

Labour members of the appointments panel, including former council leader Sir Albert Bore, met Mr Hughes on Wednesday to talk about the appointment.

The matter will be discussed at the next Labour group meeting, where a decision will be taken about what to do at the full council meeting. Yesterday, coalition leaders bowed to pressure and issued a statement admitting that the appointment did not have unanimous approval, but insisting that Mr Hughes was the right choice for Birmingham.

Alan Rudge, cabinet member for equalities and human resources, said: "We carried out a rigorous recruitment and selection process to find our next chief executive.

"We produced a strong shortlist, and after due process the panel has decided to recommend Stephen Hughes to the next council meeting as the preferred candidate.

"This was the view of the majority of the panel. I believe we have made the right choice, and I have every confidence that Stephen Hughes will help us achieve our ambitions."

Deputy council leader Paul Tilsley accused Labour of bringing politics into the appointment process.

Coun Tilsley (Lib Dem Sheldon), a member of the appointments panel, said: "Sir Albert Bore wants to make this into a political issue, but then again he wants to make everything into a political issue.

"I said from the beginning of the selection process that we would never get unanimity because I knew Labour would use it as a political issue.

"Sir Albert is slowly coming to recognise that Labour will be out of power in Birmingham for some considerable time and he won't be able to influence any important appointment decisions."

Sir Albert said last night: "I do not think it would be right for me to say anything publicly at this stage." Members of the Birmingham business community urged the council to pay at least #250,000 for a chief executive and to conduct a global search for the world's best.

Birmingham Chamber of Commerce and Industry has strongly backed Mr Hughes' appointment.

West Midlands Institute of Directors chairman John James said that while Mr Hughes was "not an inspiring appointment" he would be a safe pair of hands.