ESSEX County Council has spent more than £200,000 on subscribing to a body dubbed a glorified social club.

The Echo can reveal County Hall has spent £221,563 on annual subscriptions to the Local Government Association, which calls itself the “voice of local government”.

Taxpayers’ cash was also spent to the tune of £285,000 for private healthcare for the cash-troubled Tory administration’s most senior officers, an outlay that has been criticised by opposition councillors.

Membership of the association, which most authorities subscribe to, allows senior officers tomeet at regular events, but the organisation has little power.

County Hall defended the figures however, claiming that beingamember allows the authority to share expertise with other administrations, while offering private healthcare packages attracts the best employees.

But Kerry Smith, Ukip county councillor for Basildon’s Westley Heights, said: “The LGA is just a glorified social club for councils. It does nothing for the council, or for taxpayers.

“Residents are paying for this, which is essentially a quango for the sake of quangos.”

The authority also shelled out on private healthcare for at least 900 of its employees who earn a minimum of £46,000.

Mr Smith added: “This outlay is at time when they are trying to watch every penny.

“If the NHS is good enough for the Prime Minister’s children, why isn’t it good enough for County Hall?”

Figures, requested by Ukip, also show the county council spent £408,000 on the Chelmsford Park and Ride scheme, with the initiative only forecast to break even in 2014/15.

Mr Smith criticised County Hall, claiming Basildon residents should not be subsidising ventures in the north of the county. From April 2013 to January this year, the county council also spent £623,976 on printed publications, the figures reveal.

A county council spokesman said: “Being a member of the Local Government Association enables the council to engage with other local authorities to share expertise and knowledge, develop best practice and innovative ways of working to help the organisation deliver the best services at the best value for money possible to residents.

“At a time when public service is being reformed and local authorities are changing the way they work to address financial pressures, it is particularly important local authorities work together in this way.”

The authority also responded to criticism on its private healthcare outlay.

The spokesman added: “This is a benefit highly valued by employees, and is one recruitment and retention tool the council is able to offer.”