Scrapping Union Learning Fund would be ‘tremendous loss’

Boris Johnson highlighted the importance of skills development in a speech last month
Finnbarr Webster/PA Wire/PA Images

Tesco, Arla Foods and Tata Steel are among the employers supporting a campaign to persuade the government to rethink its plans to scrap the Union Learning Fund.

The proposal to bin the £12 million fund – which sees unions broker access to workplace learning and training – comes just weeks after Boris Johnson outlined the importance of skills development in a speech announcing the government’s “build back better” strategy.

The ULF supported 200,000 learners, both union members and non-members, in 2019-20. Available training includes literacy and numeracy skills, ICT skills, English for speakers of other languages, apprenticeships, vocational training and ongoing professional development.

The TUC received a letter proposing the closure of the fund days after Johnson’s speech, and said there had been no prior discussion or consultation about its future.

The union body has now launched a campaign urging ministers to reverse the decision. The campaign has been backed by major employers; RSA chief executive and author of the Taylor review of modern working practices Matthew Taylor; and bodies including the CIPD, the Workers Educational Association and the Learning and Work Institute.

“Union learning has helped millions of working people improve their skills and progress at work in the last 20 years.

“From basic skills and helping people learn English, to retraining for the jobs of the future, union learning transforms lives,” said TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady.

“The Prime Minister has been clear on the importance of improving skills to rebuilding the economy. Union learning is a national asset and a vital plank of building back better. The Prime Minister must reject this proposal.”

The most recent independent evaluation of the Union Learning Fund found that 68% of learners with no previous qualifications got a qualification via the training provided; 80% gained new skills that could be transferred into another job; and 53% of employers saw an increase in staff gaining qualifications, with 77% stating it had a positive effect on their workplace.

The fund is estimated to deliver a net contribution of more than £1.4 billion as a result of a boost to jobs, wages and productivity.

CIPD chief executive Peter Cheese said: “Workplace training is critical for individuals and organisations to support growth and productivity, yet UK business has been falling behind. The Union Learning Fund has played an important role and has demonstrated its success at reaching organisations and individuals who would not otherwise have engaged in learning.

“It has never been more important to ensure that we are investing in the skills and capabilities of our workforce, and this fund should continue to be supported to play its part in this vital agenda.”

Matthew Taylor, RSA chief executive, said: “Lifelong learning has a key role to play in helping us close the UK’s productivity gap with our competitors. Workplace learning is a big part of this – and union learning has proven to be brilliantly effective.

“If the funding goes it will be a tremendous loss, harming business and the economy just when training and skills are needed for our economic recovery.”

Tata Steel’s HR director Chris Jaques said: “This brilliant initiative allows us jointly to raise the capability of our workforce resulting in a more effective and productive organisation and also identify where it can be used to further enhance their skills and competencies. The loss of the Union Learning Fund would certainly be detrimental to achieving the pace of change and future workforce skills to which our industry aspires.”

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