Union Learning Fund — [Mr Philip Hollobone in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 9:31 am on 18th November 2020.

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Photo of Seema Malhotra Seema Malhotra Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) (Employment) 9:31 am, 18th November 2020

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mr Hollobone. I support the arguments powerfully laid out by my hon. Friend Lilian Greenwood, as do employers, the RSA, the CIPD and others.

Last month the TUC was told that Ministers had decided not to continue funding Unionlearn beyond the current financial year. That is a termination of £12 million annual funding, which supports over 200,000 learners in workplaces across the country every year—learners who undertake all sorts of job-relevant learning and training, including basic literacy, numeracy, information and communications technology, apprenticeships and traineeships, vocational training, continuous professional development, and many other informal and formal courses. At the heart of the model is a union learning rep, a trained worker who understands the workforce, the nature of the business and the skills gaps that exist.

I know that the Minister is aware of work that I and other Members of Parliament around Heathrow are doing in response to the current pandemic to support a learning offer. Unite and others are involved in developing a new Unite learning hub at Heathrow, and it is one of the best examples I have seen, with hundreds of tailored courses based on learning surveys with people in the workplace and in the community. How many Unionlearn projects has the Minister visited? How many reps has she spoken with? How many employers and employees using the model has she talked to? What published assessment has been made of the return on investment or the impact? And what assessment has she has made of that impact?

To add to the comments made by my hon. Friend, I received a contribution from Catherine, a learning rep for Unite. She says:

“I would like to add some information that may be of use to you through my own personal experience…and the students I have worked with…
the ULF is more than delivering maths, English and ICT
it is about giving someone the opportunity to learn, who for whatever reason may not have had the confidence within themselves, time or energy to go to college or do a course online…
We are not just about gaining qualifications, we are about giving someone the ability to read to his grandchildren, we are about helping to deliver equality and diversity training to an entire workforce, we are about delivering vital skills to vulnerable and low paid workers who cannot afford to go to college, or whose working hours don't fit with that of colleges. We are about giving someone the belief in themselves that they can achieve.

By providing education delivery in the workplace and in the community, we are opening up countless opportunities for workers…
who may have thought they were not available to them.

I say workers and not members because not everyone who takes part in one of the courses is a union member…
because ULF workers are at the frontline…
we can adapt and respond to the needs of workers in a work place and that too of the company…
when working together and deliver education” that is in line with the initiatives put forward by the Government. She adds:

“Many of the students would not be able to attend regular colleges due to cost”.

I do not need to say much more. With some policy choices, there are grey areas to consider. With this one, once we understand the work of the fund and what it achieves, there is only a downside.