All local services could eventually be outsourced to private companies or charities, a third of council leaders and chief executives believe.

The "startling" findings are contained in a report by local-government think tank Localis, which concluded that the idea of a council providing services to local people could soon be consigned to the history books.

Social care, waste collection, road maintenance, planning, housing and environmental health could all be provided by the private or voluntary sector in the future, according to the report, Catalyst Councils.

The report was welcomed by Oliver Letwin, the minister for Government Policy, who described it as "an enormously useful contribution" as part of a transformation which would see "a change in the direction of a nation". He added: "I suspect that, 15 or 20 years from now, we will find a Britain in which people can't imagine how things used to be so centralised."

However, public-service union Unison condemned the proposals and cited recent "shocking failures" of the private sector.