Labour leader Ed Miliband has rejected proposals for local public sector pay rates ahead of his party's conference that will map out how to "rebuild Britain".
The leader of the Opposition said that any moves towards smashing uniform national pay rates for teachers, nurses and other state workers, which is being pioneered by the NHS in the South West, would be treated with "deep scepticism".
In a wide-ranging interview with regional newspaper Westminster correspondents, Mr Miliband said at the heart of the party's conference in Manchester – which starts tomorrow – would be tackling falling living standards, helping small businesses and reforming the economy "not just for a few people at the top but for all".
He announced he would chair a youth unemployment taskforce, urging Labour MPs and councils to devise jobs-boosting initiatives to tackle the "emergency". Labour-run Plymouth City Council yesterday unveiled a plan to create 1,000 jobs at firms based in the city.
Mr Miliband, whose party is riding high in the polls, said he opposed the Government's decision to plough ahead with a badger cull in the South West.
And he hit out at David Cameron's Conservative Party for reneging on its "hug a husky" embrace of the environment and Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg for breaking promises on tuition fees, spending and the NHS.
Labour, which remains the third party across much of the Westcountry, could win back areas of the South West lost since Tony Blair's 1997 landslide, he said. He told journalists: "The theme of conference will be re-building Britain. I think people voted for change two-and-half years ago, and I think people have seen things get worse not better under this Government.
"We will show how we can rebuild the economy not just for a few people at the top but for all people right across the country."
He was questioned by the Western Morning News over local and regional pay proposals, which Chancellor George Osborne has asked an independent body to examine.
Trade unions in the region are furious 20 NHS trusts across the South West have signed-up to a "pay cartel" they claim will reduce pay and conditions.
He said: "We're not in favour of regional pay. We don't think it's the answer. It's not fair. It's saying if you live outside London you're going to be paid less, and we're going to cut wages and make life more difficult for you."
Mr Miliband went on: "We are approaching their proposals on regional and local pay with deep scepticism."
Asked why Labour introduced local pay in the courts service, he said: "There are isolated examples you can point to. But if you want a wholesale move to local pay bargaining my sense is it's not going to help our kids, it's not going to help patients in hospitals."
Labour has just two MPs in Devon and Cornwall, and only two councillors on Cornwall Council. However, it won back Plymouth City Council and took overall control at Exeter City Council this year.
Of persuading voters in the South West to come back to Labour, he said: "I think the most important thing we can do is show people we can make a difference to their lives. People used to give the coalition the benefit of the doubt. They are now having real doubts about whether their plan is working."
On revived plans for a Severn barrage tidal energy scheme stretching from Wales to Somerset, creating hundreds of jobs in the region, the former Energy Secretary hit out at the Government for "catastrophically undermining" renewable energy.
He said: "It's hard to remember now that David Cameron was the guy that went to the Arctic to hug a husky. Now he's appointed an Environment Secretary that doesn't believe in climate change. They now seem to be saying that if you help the environment it hurts the economy. The way you have a successful economy is by having green jobs. Severn barrage is certainly one way to do that."
Of the badger cull, he criticised opponents allegedly intimidating farmers backing the move, but made clear he is "not in favour" of the policy. "I don't think it's proved by the science. We looked at this a lot in Government. We didn't believe the case was proven. I fear it will both upset people who care deeply about the badger population of the UK, and won't solve the problem."
And he hit back at Deputy Prime Minister Mr Clegg, who last week said Labour had been reduced to a "protest party". "The problem people have with him is not that he is in power, but that he seems to have broken so many of his promises while in power. He's at the wrong end of the telescope in so many ways."