Labour Councillors took a motion to Full Council last week and won support for proposals to back the campaign to save the Union Learning Fund and lobby the Government to reverse planned cuts. Councillor Nick Childs proposed that motion, and here he outlines the case for lifelong learning and retaining the crucial fund:

The UK is suffering from a productivity crisis. Since 2008 output per worker hour has stagnated. ONS data shows the productivity gap between the UK and the other G7 countries places us 15% below the G7 average. Productivity has stagnated for over 12 years.

Without sustained growth in productivity GDP does not increase, our economy will not grow and we all fail to reach our potential.

At the same time, social mobility has stalled and is in reverse. A recent survey by the Government’s social mobility unit found that 50% of people felt they were worse off than their parents’ generation.

Education and skills are only one of the solutions to the current challenges but are critical ones.

For this reason, it surprising that the failed Secretary of State for Education wrote to the TUC last year to advise that the Government would be withdrawing from the Union Learning Fund.

Established in 1998 with a vision of a Learning Society. The fund is based on a progressive tripartite model involving employers, unions and Government. Its work and courses are jointly funded. A worker does not have to be a union member to benefit from such courses.

Its aim is to promote lifelong learning throughout the labour market in order to raise skills, productivity, social mobility and help employees reach their potential. Through a network of elected union learning reps, working with employers, the fund facilitates access to training to some of the hardest to reach groups – unskilled workers, migrant labour, part time employees, staff in manual and service sector jobs. With 50% of adults from the poorest backgrounds receiving no education once they have left school the role of the fund is invaluable.

The Fund has placed a focus on ensuring employees have basic literacy and numeracy skills as well as being able to focus on vocational industry specific courses.

It has been key in promoting and developing modern apprenticeships which are part of the Government’s ambitious plan to create 3 million such traineeships from 2020.

ULRs ensure employers meet their obligations with regards the apprenticeship levy as well as encouraging greater participation and quality in traineeships.

Finally, the fund it gives workers a voice in how training is developed and offered within the workplace.

The outcomes of the fund have been studied and reviewed and are formidable in meeting the joint aims of employers, workers and government.

  • Last year 200,000 employees were trained.
  • 68% of learners with no previous qualifications gained a qualification;
  • 68% of employers say unions are particularly effective at inspiring reluctant learners to engage in training and development;
  • 70% of learners would not have taken part in learning without union support;
  • Importantly, for every £1 invested in the Union Learning Fund generated a total economic return of £12.24.

It is unclear why the Government really want to end the fund whose cessation which is opposed by many major employers including Tesco, Arla Foods and Tata Steel. The CIPD oppose the cut and the Director of the RSA has described the fund as brilliantly effective.

Given the clear evidence of financial value I can only conclude that this is either an of incompetence or more likely another malicious and petty ideological attack by the party of capital on the trades’ union movement.

Councillor Nick Childs

Photo by Green Chameleon on Unsplash

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