Birmingham City Council spent more than £1.3 million on hiring barristers in a year.

A Freedom of Information request revealed external legal advice was sought by the council on 463 occasions in the last financial year despite it having the largest in-house local authority legal department in Europe with 300 staff.

The council is set to axe more than 1,100 jobs next year in the face of budget cuts.

The Taxpayers’ Alliance said it could not understand why the bill was so high.

Spokeswoman Emma Boon said: “While I appreciate that, on occasion, outside help is necessary, it is worrying so much taxpayers’ money has been spent on barristers when finances are under so much pressure elsewhere.”

The council used top QCs in cases involving complex issues like the judicial review over Compulsory Purchase Orders used to clear the way for the multi-million pound New Street Station development.

The total bill came to £1,309,526 during the last financial year from April 21010 to March 2011.

The authority claimed QCs were engaged for their expertise and experience to maximise chances of winning a case.

“In some areas of specialist work, such as planning or information law issues, there are insufficient senior barristers or QCs with the requisite experience or reputation, based in Birmingham,” it said in its FOI request response.

“There are often cases where the council can see that a case will eventually go to London, for example, where the case involves novel or complex issues such as judicial reviews or public inquiries, which tend to be more expensive that general or family litigation issues.

“In these circumstances it may be more cost-effective to instruct the same barrister for the whole case.”

The council said its main concern was winning cases and on many occasions this justified using specialist legal advice, often located outside the city.

And it said fees spent on barristers from outside Birmingham did not take into account cash paid by opponents towards costs when the council was successful, or where cash was recovered from external clients, such as work spearheaded by the city on illegal money lending.