A million public sector jobs, including frontline roles in the NHS and the police, must be axed if the Government is to cut its deficit, a think-tank said today.
Reform said reducing the headcount by 15% would eventually save around £27 billion a year and firmly rejected promises by both Labour and the Tories to protect the front line.
Lower staffing levels would benefit the public and the workforce, it argued, in more efficient services and potentially better pay in the longer-term.
And it suggested that a high turnover rate would minimise the need for compulsory redundancies, pointing to a "two out, one in" policy in force in France to cut the state headcount.
Politicians have been careful to say they would shield those who actually deliver services from the efficiency measures all accept are needed to help pull the economy out of crisis.
All parties have promised pay measures but have shied away from major job cuts.
But Reform said that, as the bulk of the workforce, frontline workers had to be targeted as well if the serious savings required were to be found.
Of the health service's 1.4 million-strong workforce, "only 220.000 provide administrative support", it noted, and the NHS and police had grown six times as fast (30%) as the Whitehall civil service since 1999.
Staff costs accounted for over half the total costs of the NHS, over two-thirds of the education bill and three-quarters of police costs.
Yet on average it said public sector workers were less productive, more often off sick and had lower morale despite being better paid than the private sector.
There is real economic damage in propping up public sector jobs that are not delivering value," the think-tank declared.
"Services which have seen the greatest employment growth and the worst productivity falls, such as the NHS, should see the greatest reductions in headcount."
It said local managers "take it for granted" that costs can be reduced by a fifth without harming services but required a government prepared to make the case for severe cuts, suggesting that would require the "determined political will of a united Cabinet".
Reform director Andrew Haldenby said: "Politicians have to be more honest with the public about what needs to happen if they are to reduce the deficit.
"Radical change won't happen if they see their role as the defenders of the status quo. The public sector workforce has to shrink to become as productive as the private sector.
"This must be an essential part of the plan to reduce the deficit that Alistair Darling should announce in his Pre-Budget Report."
Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services union, said: "Cutting a million jobs would seriously harm the delivery of public services, having a huge impact on the public.
"It would also damage the economy, damage the economic recovery and lead to a double-dip recession.
"The way to address the deficit is through growth and investment and by focusing on the £100 billion of tax which is uncollected, evaded or avoided.
"Slash and burn solutions are not the answer."
TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: "This report shows just how damaging public spending cuts will be.
"Too many people pretend that there is an artificial division between frontline staff and those who support them, but you can't make big spending cuts without hitting public services.
"Reform's proposals are appalling but they show the choice is between a fairer tax system or cuts that will hit the many."
Dave Prentis, general secretary of Unison, said: "Most people want good local schools and hospitals and they understand that you have to pay for them.
"Most people understand that the current public sector debt is a direct result of an under-regulated, over-greedy, risk-taking financial sector.
"Now is not the time to cut the public services - people rely on them to help them through the recession. We don't want more people dumped on the dole queue.
"What Reform needs to do is go back to the drawing board and find a way to get the bankers, financial institutions and tax avoiders to pay their fair share of taxation."Reuse content