Up to half a million jobs will be cut from the French civil service over the next 10 years as part of a plan to use e-government technology to boost productivity and slash public spending, the country's minister for civil service reform Renaud Dutreil announced last week, according to a report in E-Government Bulletin .

Dutreil made the remarks at the fifth Worldwide Forum on e- Democracy in Paris last week.

New technology will help cut a growing public-sector wages and pensions bill that has expanded a national debt that will cost the government 1.63 billion euros to service in 2005 alone, he said. "Cutting jobs is something that we were previously too afraid to talk about. But this is an obligation, not a political choice," he said.

Dutreil said the jobs would be cut by imposing a limit on recruitment which is far lower than the average rate at which people leave public jobs, according to the Bulletin. "Around 77,000 civil servants leave every year, and we must limit recruitment to between 30,000 and 40,000. How are we to maintain services? The e-economy is one of the keys," he said.

The French government is also taking a serious look at increasing its use of open source software. Earlier this year, Dutreil said that cutting the software bill for the government by half is an achievable target, and that migrating some of the government's 900,000 desktop computers to open source technology is one of a range of options being considered reported the Bulletin.

Dutreil urged French government agencies to face up to some uncomfortable truths about modern services. "There was a time when we felt French-style public services were best, but those times have gone. Now, others have gone ahead of us in modernisation," he said.

"We've talked about modernisation for years. We've gone round and round the mountain, but not up the mountain. Now we need to go up the mountain."