NEARLY £900,000 has been spent on private medical insurance for Essex County Council staff.

Figures released under the Freedom of Information Act show the authority shelled out the cash to provide medical cover for up to 331 employees over the last three years.

The Taxpayers’ Alliance criticised the expenditure as “incredible” in the current financial climate.

Robert Oxley, campaign manager, added: “We are already paying the salaries of these staff and funding any NHS healthcare they require through our taxes, so there is no justification for fleecing taxpayers for private health insurance.”

But the county council argued certain perks were required to attract the highest calibre candidates to the authority.

Private medical insurance is often dished out as one of the benefits of highly-paid roles in both the public and private sectors.

A council statement said: “Essex County Council, as one of the largest local authorities in the country, wants to attract the best from all industries to help us deliver high quality services.

“One way is by offering the option of private medical insurance.”