TAXPAYERS have given almost £1m to Oxfordshire councillors’ pensions as part of an “unjustified” scheme that will be outlawed.

Some £960,814 in contributions have been made to the “gold plated” Local Government Pension Scheme by Oxfordshire councils.

The scheme – of which about one in four eligible district, county and city councillors are members – will close from next April.

It was established in 2003/04 in a bid to encourage a wider range of ages and backgrounds to become councillors.

It offers a pension based on career average allowances, a tax-free lump sum on retirement, life cover and tax relief on contributions.

A scheme member of about 31 years and a career average pay of £16,200 would get a £6,188-a-year pension and £18,564 lump sum.

But local government minister Brandon Lewis said in December: “We do not believe that taxpayer-funded pensions are justified.

“Councillors are volunteers undertaking public service; they are not and should not be employees of the council dependent on the municipal payroll.”

Councillors had to join the rest of the public sector – which is facing cuts to pensions – to “do their bit” to tackle the deficit, he said.

Figures released to the Oxford Mail under the Freedom of Information Act show 74 out of 274 eligible councillors are members.

And 21 have joined since April 2009, six months after the start of the economic downturn, which led to cuts by all councils.

All contributed £306,509 from their councillors’ allowance and pensions worth £94,455 have been paid out.

Some 23 lump sums – payable on retirement or death – worth £76,956 were paid, with the highest £16,800.

The county council, which administers the scheme, refused to release member names, citing “data protection”.

TaxPayers’ Alliance campaign manager Robert Oxley said: “Local politicians shouldn’t pretend that being a councillor is a full time job with the perks of a taxpayer funded gold plated pension.”

South Oxfordshire District Council Ann Ducker said there were “heated” rows when it refused to adopt the scheme. The Conservative said: “You are elected to do the work, it is not a job. It is a service to the community.”

But Tory county councillor Bill Service, deputy chairman of the Oxfordshire scheme’s Pension Fund Committee, hit out at the change, which the Government said will save £7m a year.

The 60-year-old, who contributes six per cent of his monthly allowance, £41.48, said the change was despite ministers handing more power and work to councils.

He said: “I don’t see where the Government are coming from.

“They are encouraging people to join pension schemes but when it comes to the Local Government Pension Scheme, they are taking that away.”

And deputy Conservative council leader Rodney Rose said: “The amount of money is so small it is silly to just upset councillors over.”

He added: “I don’t know how a Westminster MP can say we are voluntary and they are not. I don’t see them volunteering to give up their pension rights.”

Labour Oxford City Council leader Bob Price said: “The way the Government treats local Government, they should be full-time and yet they are not giving them the credit for that.”

Current scheme members are (total councillors in brackets): Oxfordshire County Council – 32 (74); Oxford City Council – 15 (48);West Oxfordshire District Council –17 (49); Cherwell District Council – 7 (50) and Vale of White Horse District Council – 3 (51).