COUNTY Hall spent more than £7 million in just one year paying for the services of a legal firm, it has been revealed.

Analysis of Essex County Council’s accounts for 2018/19 showed it has paid £7.5 million to Slaughter and May.

The payments were spread across the 12 months, with some months seeing multiple payments made.

In December 2018, a total of £2.5 million was handed over to the London-based firm.

Both August 2018 and March 2019 saw £1.2 million paid out.

December also saw the highest and lowest payments made - of £847,473.68 and £938.40 respectively.

There is no detail on what the money was spent on.

The revelation comes as the council backtracked on plans to close libraries across the county.

The original plans could have saved the authority as much as £2 million.

Andy Abbott, spokesman for Save Our Libraries Essex, said: “It is utterly ridiculous when you have got a situation when a council is cutting much needed public services and then find they are facing a legal challenge as a result of the cuts.

“They end up spending far more in legal services and barristers than the original cost of cutting the service. It is absurd.”

Mr Abbott said when authorities refused to explain what the money had been spent on it was “dangerous for democracy”.

Earlier this year it was revealed County Hall needs to plug a funding gap of £100 million by 2021.

A spokesman said: “The council needs legal support in all aspects of its day to day work.

“From time to time, the council will also have to take action against others, or defend action taken against it.

“In all cases, the council will carefully consider the most efficient and effective way of doing this which may involve using its in-house legal service, or engaging external support.

“Like most local authority legal departments Essex Legal Services is resourced to deal with the council’s typical needs. However, the council is currently involved in significant and complex litigation.

“The volume and complexity of the cases will vary from year to year, and the legal action on a particular case may take more than a year. It is, therefore, not meaningful to compare year on year expenditure.

“The council will not comment further in detail as the cost of external legal advice is commercially sensitive and frequently confidential.”