The Scottish Executive is facing new charges of 'cronyism' following the announcement that Ronnie Cleland is to play a leading role in recruiting a new chief medical officer for Scotland.

Mr Cleland, chair of North Glasgow University Hospitals trust, is a partner with specialist head hunters Thomson Partners Ltd. This company has been asked to find a successor to Sir David Carter, who leaves at the end of September.

The contract between the executive and Mr Cleland's firm first became apparent when his name appeared as the contact for applications for the position.

Conservative health spokeswoman Mary Scanlon said: 'This kind of action does not encourage public confidence, openness and impartiality in the selection of this crucial post.'

She said the move would cast doubt on the CMO's impartiality and call into question any future dealings with the trust, which she described as 'hardly a shining example of a caring service in the NHS'.

A spokesperson for the Scottish Executive said: 'There is no conflict of interest as Thomson Partners will collate the applications for the Executive and will not be directly involved in the selection process.'

And Donald McNeill, development officer for the Institute of Healthcare Management, said: 'If anyone is going to headhunt for the replacement CMO, then it is good that it is someone with experience of the NHS in Scotland who will be more likely to seek out the right individual for the job.'