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 has said today.

Reform said reducing the head count by 15 per cent would eventually save around £27bn a year and firmly rejected promises by both Labour and the Tories to protect the front line.

Services which have seen the greatest employment growth and the worst productivity falls, such as the NHS, should see the greatest reductions in head count

Lower staffing levels would benefit the public and the workforce, it argued, through 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 head count.

Politicians have been careful to say they would shield those who actually deliver services from the efficiency measures that 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 per cent) 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.

“Services which have seen the greatest employment growth and the worst productivity falls, such as the NHS, should see the greatest reductions in head count,” the think tank said.