Jeremy Corbyn urges Labour to 'pull together' ahead of May polls
Jeremy Corbyn has called on Labour to "pull together" to fight elections in England, Wales and Scotland in May as he put an anti-austerity message at the centre of his pitch to voters.
The Labour leader said he would support councils to reverse the "forced privatisation" of local services and accused the Government of inflicting "brutal" cuts.
May's elections will be a crucial test for Mr Corbyn, whose leadership has been the subject of sustained criticism from MPs in his own party opposed to the left-winger's policies.
In an address to Labour's local government conference, Mr Corbyn called for the party to unite and step up its campaigning effort.
The party faces a stiff test in Scotland, where it is in danger of being pushed into third place behind the SNP and Conservatives, while in Wales the party could suffer if Ukip makes expected inroads.
He told activists in Nottingham: "We have important elections in Scotland and Wales, and mayoral elections in London, Bristol, Liverpool and Salford - as well as the EU referendum on the horizon ... In all those ballots, and in local elections across England, we are standing up for people, defending their rights and services, and protecting their communities.
"The party must pull together to take our campaign to every part of the country and I'll be encouraging every Labour MP in Westminster to get out of Westminster, do the campaigning and be involved and to be focused on preventing the Tories devastating our communities and destroying our local services. That is what brought us in to the Labour Party."
Alongside the election effort, Mr Corbyn said Labour would "also be launching a targeted campaign against the Tory cuts".
He also proposed a "national public services day" when "everybody comes together to highlight the importance of our public services and their incredible value to our communities".
Setting out the challenge facing Labour, he said: " We cannot take for granted any part of our communities. We need to secure our party's traditional vote as well as reaching out to new people in every part of the country."
Mr Corbyn said there was a "new era of Labour innovation and public action in local government" and vowed that if he was in Number 10 town halls would be given greater powers to "roll back the tide of forced privatisation".
He said: " Despite the pressure from Tory cuts and dictats, we are demonstrating that there is an alternative to outsourcing, privatisation and the running down of local services.
"Privatisation isn't just about who runs a service, it's about who services are accountable to, about who shares the rewards, about protecting the workforce and getting a good deal for local people who use the services.
"After a generation of forced privatisation and outsourcing of public services, the evidence has built up that handing services over to private companies routinely delivers poorer quality, higher cost, worse terms and conditions for the workforce, less transparency and less say for the public."
He added: " We want local councils to have the freedom to develop their local economies and communities to become the public entrepreneurs of the 21st century - directly providing cutting edge public services and utilities in the economy of the future."
Mr Corbyn said in Europe " scores of cities across our continent have been taking water, energy and other services back into local public ownership".
He told activists how when he was in charge of public works at Haringey Council any firm seeking a contract had to recognise trade unions and train apprentices.
"Those powers are very important and ought to reside there with local authorities so they can be a force for good in the community, a force for good in the economy."
Mr Corbyn highlighted cuts to subsidies for local buses in the Prime Minister's constituency in Oxfordshire and joked that he expected a letter in protest from t he "chair of the Chipping Norton anti-cuts alliance, Mr David Cameron".
"I'm waiting for a question to the Prime Minister from Mr David Cameron," he said.
He said Labour's message for the local government campaign was clear: "L abour is standing up for you. A Labour council is the best protection for your community and local services against the onslaught of Tory cuts. People are better off with Labour.
"The Tories' austerity is political choice not an economic necessity - these cuts are brutal and unnecessary and it is a Labour council that is the best protection for communities."
The CBI warned Mr Corbyn against ruling out private sector firms providing public services.
Neil Carberry, CBI director for public services, said: "As government rightly tackles the deficit, business innovation and investment has been vital to making public services more effective and efficient.
"With much of the low hanging fruit of making savings picked, it will be even more important for the public sector to work with the very best from the public, private and charity sectors to improve services over this Parliament.
"Ruling out private sector involvement would restrict access to the best ideas need to transform public services to ensure they remain high quality and within spending limits."