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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:56 am on 18th November 2020.

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Photo of Lilian Greenwood Lilian Greenwood Chair, Finance Committee (Commons), Chair, Finance Committee (Commons) 10:56 am, 18th November 2020

I cannot decide if the Minister actually believes a word of the speech she has just delivered. It is as if she was not listening to a single one of the contributions that we heard.

We know that Unionlearn is not primarily about delivering courses. It is about connecting people to opportunities and giving them the confidence to take up those opportunities. Even where courses are provided free of charge, the number of adult learners is falling. For example, the number of adults achieving first level 2 qualifications in English and maths has fallen by 30% since 2010, despite those courses being free. If the Minister is serious in thinking that the union learning fund is not on the scale required, she should be investing more in expanding it to enable those workers to take up those opportunities. I am glad to see Sir John Hayes nodding along with that.

The Minister did not answer my questions about which organisation will engage reluctant learners. The careers service does a good job, but it cannot reach the same people. She did not explain how scrapping the union learning fund will help us to build back better, the impact it will have on the industrial strategy, the discussions she has had with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy or how it will increase the uptake of training in non-unionised workplaces. She did not answer my maths question about what proportion of the Department for Education budget that £12 million provides.

I am so disappointed. I read and hear many contributions about the difference that union learning makes, and people describe how it has transformed the way they feel about themselves and the opportunities open to them. I read someone saying: “I honestly feel like this is a new beginning for me. I am buzzing. I can’t wait to get back to work and start implementing everything I learned on the course.” That is what her Government are taking away. She should be ashamed of herself, a Skills Minister who wants to take away the opportunity for working people to improve their skills and transform their lives.

Mr Hollobone, I do not know what more to say, other than that I hope that other people can prevail upon the Skills Minister and her boss, the Secretary of State for Education, to wake up and do something positive, and change their minds about this appalling decision.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House
has considered the future of the Union Learning Fund.

Sitting suspended.