It is a pleasure to serve under you, Mr Hollobone, and I concur with every word uttered in the debate, not least those of my hon. Friend Lilian Greenwood.
We are here because we have all witnessed something so transformative and so life-changing in workplaces across the country that we want the Minister to go on the union learning fund journey. It is no ordinary learning scheme. The Minister may be asking why trade unions would make such an investment in union learning. What do they gain from it? Why would people volunteer to be learning reps? Is that not somebody else’s job?
Let me tell the Minister about the transformative power of union learning reps and the union learning fund: for just £12 million, it returns £1.4 billion to the economy. Unions invest because that is what they do. Unions invest in health and safety reps because they want working people to be safer at work. Unions invest in workplace reps because they know that better workplaces are more productive workplaces, and provide more secure labour. Unions invest in union learning because they unlock the potential of others, give them life chances that they have never had, help them discover their skills and talents, and open up to them a new world of possibilities. That is what trade unions do. After going through training in which unions have invested, union learning reps ensure that effective programmes are available to workers that are matched to their needs.
I used to be Unite’s national officer, and I saw how many men and women who had no qualifications and would shy away from learning, began their learning journey with the support of union learning reps. They first gained basic skills thanks to the investment, encouragement and support of the union learning rep, working patiently alongside them to give them confidence and support. I would then see barriers fall, and the fear of learning turn into a new hunger. They then embark upon courses and improve themselves, becoming more confident workers and bringing real gain to their workplaces, as 80% of courses do.
I have witnessed tears of frustration turn to tears of joy. I have heard testimonials from employers who have confessed that they would not have been able to do what the fund does without the union learning fund. It is not just about the course or the qualification; it is about the learning journey—the support, the encouragement, the friendship and the fulfilment of the hidden dream. It is powerful. At a time like this, when we are going to have to use every resource wisely and see workers diversify their skills, the union learning fund has never been more needed. That is why employers want to keep it, and that is why employers have set up learning centres and learning agreements. The union learning fund does things that no learning programme can do: it brings together employers, workers and reps with a life of possibilities.
Before the Minister takes out her pen I want her, in her response today, to commit to immersing herself in the world of the union learning fund. She will witness something so moving, effective and valuable. I know she will change her mind as a result.