The Civil Service should be streamlined to form a core staff of just 50,000, according to a former senior civil servant.
Sir Peter Kemp, a permanent secretary at the Cabinet Office under Margaret Thatcher, called for a reduction in the size of the half-a-million-strong Civil Service.
Speaking at the Royal United Services Institute in Whitehall, Sir Peter said the remaining 450,000 should be contractors.
He said, "It does not much matter whether these are public sector people or private sector people. There were only 50,000 civil servants in 1900. It would be no bad aim for a government to go for something like this once again a hundred years later."
Sir Peter said the public sector had no monopoly on delivering good public services. He argued the private sector was often able to deliver "the same output for less or more output for the same".
But a spokesman for the Association of First Division Civil Servants said he saw no benefit in dividing civil servants into core staff and contractors. "Core values are always going to be different. In the private sector things are always going to boil down to shareholder profit," he said.