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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 9:55 am on 18th November 2020.

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Photo of Taiwo Owatemi Taiwo Owatemi Labour, Coventry North West 9:55 am, 18th November 2020

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I, too, thank my hon. Friend Lilian Greenwood for securing this important debate about something we all feel passionate about.

The union learning fund has helped millions of workers across the UK, so I and many hon. Members present were shocked when the Government announced that they were going to scrap the hugely successful programme. It is a brilliant initiative that encourages the greater uptake of learning within the workplace. It engages workers and employees alike to build the right structure and culture within an organisation by upskilling its employees. We have heard many powerful stories about it today.

Scrapping the fund is most painful to the millions of employees who have benefited from it, some of whom are constituents of mine. In the midlands and in my union, the GMB, members have learned to read and write through the scheme, which has given them empowering and life-changing opportunities for themselves and their families. Needless to say, the union learning fund has had a positive impact on the workplace environment for employees and employers.

I appreciate and welcome the Government’s focus on establishing a new national skills fund, but I put it to the Minister that the union learning fund could be part of that programme. In today’s climate, with covid-19 ravaging jobs and our local economies, a programme such as the union learning fund can have a powerful benefit and be an asset, not a hindrance, to the Government. In the financial year 2019-20, the fund improved the English, maths and digital skills of many employees across the country. It allowed them to develop and grow in high-quality apprenticeships and traineeships. It improved support for infrastructure projects, workplace development and skills progression.

The union learning fund has allowed many of my constituents to reach their full potential, which is something all hon. Members want for our constituents. It has demonstrated excellent value for money in return for public funds—£12 for every £1 spent. The Government always talk about ensuring that spending is effective; there is no better way than that.

More importantly, the fund has had a massive impact on the lives of many constituents across the UK, which is, honestly, truly priceless. I will quickly mention some statistics. The TUC has stated that 80% of employees said that they had developed transferable skills, 62% had acquired more effective jobs, 19% had gained a promotion or increased their responsibility, and 11% had gained a pay rise.

The Government have spoken a lot about upskilling during the pandemic, especially for those who have lost their job. I believe that the union learning fund provides employees and workers who have been furloughed during the pandemic with the opportunity to take part in online learning and training, which is something that we want for our constituents. My plea is for the Government to reconsider scrapping this brilliant programme and instead commit to funding it—and, perhaps, to go further and find a home for it as part of the national skills fund.