Ministers could be given the power to dismiss their most senior civil servants and bring in US-style political appointees to drive through policy, as part of a radical shake-up of Whitehall to be considered by the Government.
Francis Maude, the Cabinet Office minister, will examine proposals to:
* Force the most senior civil servants to tender their resignation when a new Government is elected. It would then be up to incoming ministers whether to reappoint them;
* Put permanent secretaries on fixed-term, results-based contracts from which they could be dismissed if they do not reach targets set by ministers;
* Dramatically extend the number of political appointees in the Civil Service. These could include all policy advisers and senior government press officers.
Critics fear such moves would erode the impartiality of the Civil Service, with officials forced to agree and promote ministerial plans regardless of their practicality or consequences. However, ministers in favour of reform counter that politicians are elected with a mandate to implement policy and should not be impeded by a permanent bureaucracy often resistant to change.
Mr Maude will today announce that he is commissioning research from outside Whitehall to look at civil service models in other countries, including the US, Australia and New Zealand.