It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I thank my hon. Friend Lilian Greenwood for securing such a vital debate, for speaking so passionately, from her own experience, and for thanking all the union learning reps up and down the country who are making significant differences to our communities.
I speak not only as the Member of Parliament for Weaver Vale, but as a former Unison convenor for careers services across Greater Manchester, some years ago. The union learning fund was introduced by the Labour Government in 1998 as a national scheme, but it was operated by the TUC in 1996, under the dying days of the John Major Government. It was a real game changer, and it still is. It is about promoting lifelong learning, which is something the current Prime Minister has referred to when he talks about “build back better”.
I have seen the difference it makes at the chalkface. We have already heard stories about the real difference it makes for people who have traditionally been failed by mainstream education and schools. For people who cannot do some of the basics, like reading, writing and basic maths, it is a real game changer. We have spoken about the trusted relationship with the trade union brand, but it is also a partnership with employers, Jobcentre Plus and training providers, who I have personally worked alongside in delivering these schemes in the past.
Recently, we had redundancies at Thomas Cook. Unite put together a fantastic scheme with those partners to upskill people and look at opportunities elsewhere. It would be absolute economic madness to shut the scheme down at this time.
I know the Minister is genuinely passionate about apprenticeships and has direct experience of them. She is the former co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on apprenticeships—I am a member too. I am not convinced that the Minister wants to go down in history as the Minister who shut the door on the people we are talking about—on the hundreds of thousands of workers a year who benefit from the scheme.
My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham South rightly spoke about investment. Every pound invested creates £12.87 in return. To me, it is the right thing to do not only for education but for the economy. It is life-changing for many of our key workers who we rightly applaud. I certainly hope that the Minister does not want to go down in history as a key player or architect in shutting the door on hundreds of thousands of workers.