THE North-East’s biggest council has come under fire for spending more than £400,000 on outside legal support.

Durham County Council spent £420,901 on external legal advice in the ten months to the end of January.

Of this, the children and adults’ services department paid out £263,077.

Independent councillor John Shuttleworth said: “If Durham County Council has the best people employed, why do they need to source external legal advice?

“If they had the right people in the right jobs this would not be required.”

In response, Don McLure, the council’s corporate director for resources, said it, like many large authorities, had to undertake some specialised and complex legal work.

“It would not be practical, nor would it provide value for money, for the council to employ the number of lawyers and barristers with the expertise required for this type of specialist work.

“We employ a core team of lawyers which handles the day-to-day legal business on behalf of the council and only commission specialist legal skills when this is necessary,” he added.

Outside legal advice cost the council £1.36m in 2010-11, £765,000 in 2011-12 and £813,000 in 2012-13.