A much-criticised public sector agency has closed – and the people running it are taking £5.7 million of taxpayers’ cash home with them.

The South East England Development Agency was shut down by the Government with seven of its staff getting between £100,000 and £280,000 to ease their departure.

The Government says the costs were better value than keeping Seeda and similar agencies open up and down the country because they were so expensive to run.

Oona Muirhead earned more than £135,000 last year, before bonus and pension worth between £40,000 and £50,000 – and has been awarded more than £280,000 in redundancy and compensation.

Executive director Dr Susan Priest got more than £170,000 in compensation for the loss of her role, which totals about £135,000-a-year.

Between 2009 and 2011 the agency spent £350,000 on staff expenses including £101,000 on 800 hotel stays.

In the last financial year four people got a share of £144,336 in “retention payments”, with five others in line for a further £198,971.

That cash was spent as an incentive for a handful of workers to stay on to oversee the closure of the agency.

Seeda’s accounts read: “It was concluded that securing the retention of these staff to oversee the smooth and solvent closure of the agency would ensure particular value for money, safeguard the taxpayer’s interest in making best use of the significant public assets that the RDAs have owned, and negate the need for engagement of consultancy resource which would have been at a greater cost.”

The agency formally closed on June 30. The bodies are being replaced by regional growth funds, enterprise zones and enterprise partnerships.

The average salary in the south east was less than £27,500 in February, according to the Office for National Statistics.

Alex Knutsen, branch secretary of Unison at Brighton and Hove City Council, said council workers with 30 years’ experience would get up to 29 weeks’ pay in redundancy settlements.

He said: “I am open-mouthed at the figures that are being awarded to people in comparison to the paltry sums that hundreds of thousands of public sector workers at the bottom of the ladder are getting.”

A Department for Business, Innovation and Skills spokesman said: “The total cost of redundancies for around 2,300 members of RDA staff between June 2010 and closure in 2012 was £59 million, which compares to the annual administration spend across the RDA network of £200 million before closure.”