CONSULTANTS cost County Hall more than £8.6million last year, new figures show.

Spending included a £1.5million fee to PricewaterhouseCoopers as part of the authority’s money saving Customer Transformation Programme.

A Freedom of Information request has revealed the amount spent in the 2012/3 financial year. County Hall has also already spent £2.5million up until the end of November in this financial year, including £184,000 to Ricardo AEA for work on biowaste.

The council also spent £33.9million on agency staff last year and has clocked up £18.5million until the end of November.

In a statement, the county council said: “The use of consultants can be a cost effective way of accessing professional expertise in relation to short-term or oneoff pieces of work, where there is no or inadequate in-house capacity or capability.

“For example, consultants have been used on a number of the council’s ambitious transformation projects to enable the council to concentrate spending on frontline services.

“Essex County Council has a continual drive to reduce costs in this area to improve value for money.

“As part of the council’s transformation programme the council works in partnership with Capita for the recruitment of staff, including agency or interim staff, with the exception of jobs within the school’s service.”

But Jamie Huntman, Ukip group leader at County Hall, said: “I don’t understand why there is a need for so many consultants.

“I have never once hired one in my business and I think it is an extravagance we can ill afford in these austere times.

“It seems an awful lot of money when the administration is asking the taxpayers of Essex to cough up more money in council tax next year.

“The officers at County Hall seem capable and skilled in their areas of expertise, so why is it we need to create another tier of expenses?”