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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:12 am on 18th November 2020.

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Photo of Rachel Hopkins Rachel Hopkins Labour, Luton South 10:12 am, 18th November 2020

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I thank my hon. Friend Lilian Greenwood for securing this important debate and setting out superbly why the union learning fund has such an impact on workers’ lives, particularly in the workplace. I say this as a member of the CIPD and from my working life as a head of human resources and organisational development. The power of workplace learning is so important. The ULF supports teams across more than 20 unions, developing workers in NHS wards, offices and factories, on shop floors and in so many other workplaces. It offers hundreds of lifelong learning courses on a range of subjects, focused job-related training and upskilling to thousands of workers—union members and non-members alike. The workers who receive the most benefits from the ULF are predominantly low-paid, seeking educational opportunities. As TUC general secretary Francis O’Grady puts it so succinctly, the ULF is

“the Heineken of adult learning—it gets to people other approaches cannot reach.”

Through joint working between employers and ULF representatives, skills gaps in the workforce are identified and workers are provided with access to training that fills them. An independent evaluation of the ULF’s work in 2018 found that for every £1 spent on the ULF, workers gained £7.60 through better pay, employers gained £4.70 through higher productivity and the Government gained £3.57 from welfare savings and revenue gains. In pure financial terms, that is a win, win, win. However, instead of recognising the benefits of the ULF to workers and employers, the Government have announced that from March 2021 they will cut its funding. In one breath we have the Government stating they want to build back better across the country, then in another they undermine workers’ ability to develop the skills needed to drive our recovery.

I am pleased that there is huge support across the labour and trade union movement for saving the ULF but, as already mentioned, the campaign is backed by large employers such as Tesco, Heathrow, British Steel and Tata Steel. Given the successful track record of ULF over the past two decades and its positive return on investment—and given the support from employers and workers—why are the Government cutting the ULF and replacing it with the national skills fund? Why fix it when it ain’t broke? The answer is not one that is focused on improving development opportunities for workers. Instead, it smacks of a politically motivated attack on trade unions in the workplace and is another avenue to weaken their ability to support workers—and a shameless attempt to disrupt organised labour.

The Bank of England has warned that the UK faces the worst recession in 300 years, so scrapping a scheme that is not just oven-ready but already cooked to perfection, flies in the face of building back better. I urge the Government to listen to workers, employers and trade unions by safeguarding the ULF’s future.