A DECISION to buy five iPads at almost £500 each for senior Somerset County Council staff and councillors has been branded “astounding”.

The authority defends the move as helping employees and members working away from County Hall, but opponents see it as extravagance at a time of savage job and service cuts.

Jonathan Isaby, TaxPayers’ Alliance political director, said it was insensitive to fork out on iPads after Somerset had slashed tens of millions of pounds in spending and axed hundreds of jobs.

He added: “In order to have the moral authority to oversee necessary cuts in expenditure, senior councillors and officers must ensure any spending on themselves is necessary and delivering taxpayer value for money.

“Whether they need the taxpayer to provide them with brand new tablet computers is open to debate, but what's for sure is that local people will be astounded to discover they’ve issued themselves with iPads.

“They’re an expensive, top-of-the-range, premium product and if they need a tablet at all, they should be looking at cheaper alternatives.”

A council spokesman said: “Cabinet members and senior officers are often away from the office, working while travelling, between meetings or from home.

“Five iPads have been issued on trial.

“Having a tablet computer is an effective way of connecting quickly to the council’s system, more practical than smaller devices given the amount of work done on them, and should lead to savings such as the amount of printing done.”

Another critic, who is remaining anonymous, said splashing out on the £473 devices – totalling £2,365 – was indefensible when spending on services was falling.

He added: “It’s absurd when we’re being denied seeing an Olympic gold medal and Tour de France winner (Bradley Wiggins) because the county won’t pay to host part of next year’s Tour of Britain cycle race for the sake of money.

“Yet they can afford personal items of electronic communication, despite being in an age of austerity.”