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  • Employers and unions hail “enormous contribution” made by union learning in improving access to skills in East of England
  • Projects in the region range across literacy and numeracy, apprenticeship matching, mental health awareness, and qualifications in leadership and management

The TUC in the East of England and Make UK, the voice of engineering and manufacturing, are today (Monday) joining forces to call on the government to drop the proposal to scrap the Union Learning Fund.

Secretary of State for Education, Gavin Williamson, has proposed to axe the £12 million annual Union Learning Fund from spring 2021. The TUC warns that this will harm key industries like manufacturing, which will need to retrain workers for the challenges in the post-pandemic economy such as automation and the transition to net zero emissions.

Manufacturing in the East of England generates £18.3bn of output per annum, providing 234,000 jobs, paying on average 25% higher wages than other sectors in the East of England’s economy.

Make UK’s Midlands and East of England Region Director, Charlotte Horobin, said:

“These are incredibly challenging times for manufacturers and their employees in the East of England. If we are going to ‘build back better’ the protection of key high value skills within the sector is an absolute must. The Union Learning Fund is a key element of retaining and re-training staff, especially when digital skills are going to be ever more important.”

TUC regional secretary for the East of England, Sam Gurney said:

“Union learning, led by union reps and organised with employers, has made an enormous contribution to workers’ skills and businesses in the East of England.

“When workers improve their skills and earn qualifications, their confidence grows, and they can gain promotion and higher pay. Union learning helps both union and non-union members alike onto these learning paths.

“For employers, workplace learning improvise staff moral and retention, and it boosts productivity, making firms more competitive.

“That’s why major employers like Tesco, Heathrow Airport and Arla Foods are backing our campaign to save union learning. And it’s backed by business federations like Make UK, the Manufacturing Technologies Association, and the Food and Drink Federation.

“There’s wider benefits for us all too. When workers are higher skilled and more productive, it generates more revenue for government. So it means there’s more for our public services.“

Case studies

Terry Henderson, CWU

Terry is the lead union learning rep for the Communication Worker’s Union and manager of the Learning Room at Peterborough Mail Centre. Since becoming a Union Learning Rep in 2015 he has organised courses in Maths, English, reading skills and IT, as well topics including ‘Equalities at Work’, ‘Public Speaking’, and ‘Mental Health and Work’. He has also organised ‘bitesize learning’ on themes such as digital exclusion, child online safety, scam awareness and cyber security.

Terry Henderson said: “I do what I do because of the difference it makes to the people I work alongside. Bringing them back to learning again, I see their confidence grow, and they better understand equality and health and safety at work. It was the sudden suicide of a close work friend that made me see the support needed in the workplace. That’s why I got a rep trained in mental health awareness in every Royal Mail workplace in our patch. It has become a passion for me, but only because it makes such as difference."

Mick Brightman, Community Union

At XPO, a logistics company at Marston Gate, Bedford, 26 learners were recruited and supported by the trade union, Community. They completed a 16-week ‘English for Speakers of Other Languages’ programme. Of them, 11 used their new-found confidence and skills to move up the workplace ladder to a range of new roles. And three became health and safety reps in the workplace, which they could not have done without improving their English skills.

Mick Brightman, Community Learning Organiser said: “The learning at work they accessed through union learning is potentially life changing, opening so many doors. Knowing the union’s behind the course was critical because they trust their union reps. And it was important that they saw new skills are a bridge to a better job.”

Simon Hunnybel, Unite the Union

Simon Hunneybel worked nights, as a HGV driver, for Sainsburys in Waltham Abbey in Essex. Sainsburys has an Open Learning Centre. Through union learning support, he has passed his Level 1 and 2 in Maths and has trained as a Union Learning Rep himself.

Simon said: “I live with my wife and 3 kids and enjoy my work driving as it’s varied day to day. Because of my job and what I do, I`ve never really had to worry that much about my reading. But I’ve suffered with dyslexia all my life and left school with no qualifications. So I decided to do course that runs at the end of my Wednesday shift.”

Editors note

  •  About the union learning fund and Unionlearn: the Union Learning Fund helps union members and non-members alike. It is funded by the Department for Education and can only be spent on learning and associated activities, not on other trade union activity. The TUC has produced this short briefing note with all the key information on the Union Learning Fund:  
  • New official data on employee access to training: The latest official data on employee access to training was published by the Department for Education recently (Employer Skills Survey 2019, Thursday 15 October). It shows that the proportion of employers not providing any training at all increased from 34% in 2017 to 39% in 2019; and the proportion of employees not getting any training increased from 38% in 2017 to 40% in 2019. 
  • About the TUC: The Trades Union Congress (TUC) exists to make the working world a better place for everyone. We bring together more than 5.5 million working people who make up our 48 member unions. We support unions to grow and thrive, and we stand up for everyone who works for a living.

  • TUC LESE is the TUC region responsible for the East of England. We define the East of England as Essex, Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Suffolk and Norfolk. There are 540,000 trade union members in the East of England. Many other workers in the East of England work in workplaces or enterprises in which trade unions are recognised for negotiating purposes, or that have trained health and safety reps, or other workplace reps. 8.4 percent of all trade unionists in the UK work in the East of England.
  • Make UK is the voice of engineering and manufacturing in the UK. Businesses in the sector employ almost 3 million people work, produce almost half of all UK exports by value and drive over 60 percent of all UK research and development. 


TUC press office  
020 7467 1248 


Sam Gurney, regional secretary            and 07792 492 619

Laurie Heselden, campaigns officer     and 07818 002 877

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