The Confederation of Shipbuilding & Engineering Unions

CSEU Supports ‘Save The Union Learning Fund’ Campaign

19 October 2020 / Blog | Campaign

By Tony Burke – CSEU President

The Government’s announcement that it intends to scrap the £12 million of funding by April 2021 has been roundly condemned by unions, employers and skills bodies and has lead the TUC to launch ‘Save Union Learning’ in an attempt to persuade the Government, to drop proposals to end the Union Learning Fund (ULF).

The TUC were told of the proposal to scrap the £12 million annual fund in a letter from the Department for Education.

The TUC says it was ”stunned” to receive the letter as there had been no prior discussion or consultation on the future of the fund.

This is clearly a political and ideological decision by the Government as UnionLearn is achieving its targets, and is supported by employers, and it provides a net gain to the Exchequer.

The letter arrived just days after Boris Johnson gave a speech on the importance of skills in the government’s plans to ‘build back better’

Johnson promised a Lifetime Skills Guarantee, and to “give people of all ages the means and the confidence to switch and get the skills they need”.

The campaign has the backing from employers, unions and education and skills/training organisations.

The Union Learning Fund was set up in 1998 and has been supported by governments of all parties. It increases access to learning and training in workplaces, brokered by unions. In 2019 – 2020, it supported 200,000 learners – both union members and non-members.

These learners undertake a wide range of learning and training related to work, including basic literacy and numeracy, language skills IT skills, apprenticeships and traineeships, vocational training, and professional development.

And all union learning is directly relevant to the workplace, tailored to workers and supported by government funding.

The Union Learning Fund is subject to regular independent evaluation. The most recent evaluation (2018) found:

  • 68% of learners with no previous qualifications got a qualification
  • 47% with entry or level 1 qualifications got a higher qualification
  • 80% said they gained skills that could transfer to a new job
  • 53% of employers saw an increase in employees gaining qualifications
  • 77% said that union learning had a positive effect on their workplaces
  • 68% said unions could reach and inspire reluctant learners to engage in training

For every £1 spent on the Union Learning Fund:

  • workers gain £7.60 through better pay
  • employers gain £4.70 through higher productivity
  • the Exchequer gains £3.57 from welfare savings and revenue gains

The Union Learning Fund delivers an estimated net contribution to the economy of more than £1.4 billion as a result of a boost to jobs, wages and productivity.

The TUC has produced this short briefing note with all the key information on the Union Learning Fund.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “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. Every year we hear from workers who couldn’t read confidently before union learning came into their life. Now they not only read their work emails, they can finally read their children a bedtime story.

Ian Waddell, General Secretary of the Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions, said: “Ending funding for the Union Learning Fund is pulling a rug from under the feet of thousands of employees who are currently gaining new qualifications and transferable skills at work.

The scheme is popular with employers, improves wages and job opportunities and increases tax returns to the exchequer.

The Union Learning Fund is a tangible path to skills and training unlike the Government’s Lifetime Skills Guarantee, which is just pie in the sky at this stage, and should be reinstated at once.”

Jim Mowatt Director of Education at Unite said “We should be looking forward to a post-pandemic economic world; when a country’s skill base will provide the foundation for economic regeneration, the growth in employment opportunities and increased prosperity for all.

“A skilled workforce is the lifeblood that will spearhead the UK’s economic future in this new and changing global economy, when education and training will be at a premium.

“That’s why the Union Learning Fund should remain as an important pillar of the UK’s overall training programme – we call for the proposal to axe the fund to be rescinded immediately.”

Fode Sano a carpenter working at Hinkley Point on the project to build a new nuclear power plant said GMB learning team helped him identify learning opportunities to improve his maths and English skills, and guided him to online learning resources so that he could continue learning while furloughed. All these opportunities were funded through the Union Learning Fund.

Fode said: “Through the help of GMB union learning and my employer Bylor, I am working while continuing to study to improve upon the experience and qualifications I have recently attained.”

Chris Jaques, HR Director, Tata Steel, said: “Tata Steel has always been a great advocate of developing the skills and competencies of its people throughout their careers in the company.

The support of steel industry Trades Union partners and in particular the Union Learning Fund has, for many years, provided a fantastic additional resource. 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.”

Expect more unions, employers and skills and training organisations to support the campaign to save The Union Learning Fund in the coming weeks as they write to the Tory Secretary of State Gavin Williamson demanding the decision is reversed.

The CSEU will be publishing more Save The Union Learning Fund information on this website.

Tony Burke is the President of the CSEU. He represents trade unions on the boards of Enginuity the sector skills body for the engineering and manufacturing sector and Cogent the sector skills body got the chemicals, pharma and nuclear industries.