Unions and employers have joined together to call on the government to reconsider its plan to scrap the Union Learning Fund.
The government’s contribution to the Fund, which is run by the TUC’s UnionLearn arm but also has wide support among employers, is only £12 million per year.
This money is used to educate more than 200,000 workers on a wide range of work-based skills, from improving literacy and numeracy, to the provision of apprenticeships and professional development opportunities.
Around two-thirds of UnionLearn graduates who entered the scheme with no qualifications gained a qualification through their participation in the programme. Around 80% of graduates said their new skills helped them to find new work, and every £1 spent on the Fund equates to £7.60 more for workers in higher pay and £4.70 more for employers in improved productivity.
Government’s decision to scrap the programme was made without any consultation with affected industries or unions. Several large employers, including Tata Steel, Heathrow Airport, Tesco and Arla Foods, joined unions’ call for a u-turn.
Chief Executive of Heathrow Airport, Paula Stannett, said the government’s decision to axe the scheme is “as disappointing as it is perplexing”.
“The unprecedented impact that this pandemic is having on jobs across the UK means there has never been a more critical time to invest in upskilling,” she explained.
Unions pointed out that axing the Fund is contradictory to the government’s own stated policy aims.
“The Prime Minister has been clear on the importance of improving skills to rebuilding the economy,” Frances O’Grady, General Secretary of the TUC, pointed out. “Union learning is a national asset and a vital plank of building back better. The Prime Minister must reject this proposal.”
FBU General Secretary, Matt Wrack, added: “At a time when the country is on the brink of mass unemployment, and when ministers themselves are talking about upskilling and retraining, it would be ludicrous to cut one of the most effective programmes allowing workers to expand their skills.”
The Department for Education said its contribution to the Union Learning Fund would now be redirected to other training providers as well as to the government’s new National Skills Fund.