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Northern TUC and Make UK have today joined forces to call on the government to reverse its decision to scrap the Union Learning Fund.
North East unions and local business group urge government to keep Union Learning Fund
  • Business and unions hail “enormous contribution” made by union learning in improving access to skills in the North East and Cumbria
  • Union Learning projects in the North East and Cumbria include a learning agreement between Unite and Nissan and an agreement between Darlington Council and Unison to train apprentices.

Northern TUC and Make UK have today joined forces to call on the government to reverse its decision to scrap the Union Learning Fund.

The call comes as the government is set to announce its comprehensive spending review on Wednesday 25 March.

Secretary of State for Education Gavin Williamson recently proposed to axe the £12 million annual union learning fund from spring 2021.

“Enormous contribution”

Regional Secretary Beth Farhat said union learning had made an “enormous contribution” to improving access to skills in the local area.

Union learning projects in the North East and Cumbria include a learning agreement between Unite and Nissan. This agreement has recently seen 30 learners studying basic  English and maths skills delivered by a local training provider and an agreement between Unison and Darlington Council to train more new apprentices.

A local and national success story 

Union learning is a rare success story in adult learning. It’s open to both union members and non-members.  

Union learning reps get people on to courses who would not previously have considered learning, help them stick to the course and progress, and broker time-off with employers to train.  

This practical support is a “crucial help” that makes paper entitlements to free learning a reality for working adults who need to improve their skills.   

The independent review of the Union Learning Fund showed unions excel at supporting less confident learners, and at persuading those with few or no qualifications to take up the training opportunities open to them.

Seven in ten learners said they would not have taken part in learning or training without union support. This rises to around 8 in 10 of those with no prior qualifications.

Union learning helps get reluctant adult learners the basic skills they need to progress – and in many cases helps working people get their first ever qualifications. 

“From basic skills to helping people learn English to retraining for the jobs of the future – union learning transforms lives.

“And it has made an enormous contribution in the North East and Cumbria, offering invaluable support for typically hard-to-reach learners.

“Union learning is a local and national success story. Over the past 20 years, it has a fantastic track record of getting people back into learning and has helped millions gain qualifications – including many in the North East and Cumbria.

“That’s why local unions and business groups are urging government to rethink this decision and save union learning.”

Northern TUC Regional Secretary, Beth Farhat

“These are incredibly challenging times for manufacturers and their employees in the North East and Cumbria.

“If we are going to build back better then the protection of key, high value skills within the sector is an absolute must.“

Make UK North Region Director June Smith
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. 

- 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.

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