A job with Essex county council lies in wait for the runner-up in this year's series of The Apprentice.

Lee McQueen, Alex Wotherspoon, Helene Speight and Claire Young are the four remaining contestants vying for a £100,000 salary with Sir Alan Sugar's Amstrad firm but will have a back up position waiting with his local council, it has been revealed.

According to council leader Lord Hanningfield, the position with the county body - which employs some 38,000 staff and has a £2 billion annual spend - was an attempt to "challenge the perception of working for a local authority".

"Essex County Council is as ambitious as any private company," he added.

"We unashamedly want the best and brightest to come and work for us.

"Perceptions need to change. Working in local government is every bit as challenging and rewarding, if not more so, than the private sector.

"Sir Alan Sugar's company is based right here in Essex - so this is about the ambition of the county as a whole, both private and public sector working together, to deliver the best possible quality of life for the people of Essex."

With just four contestants left, the group will split into two teams for a perfume-design project on this week's final episode of the BBC1 reality show, with previously-fired hopefuls returning to offer their help.

The fourth series of The Apprentice concludes at 21:00 BST on Wednesday.

09/06/2008 15:27:30