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• Mayor, business and unions hail “enormous contribution” made by union learning in improving access to skills in North Yorkshire

The TUC in Yorkshire & the Humber, Unite the union, a major Scarborough bus manufacturer, and the UK manufacturing employers association 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 November.

Secretary of State for Education Gavin Williamson recently proposed to axe the £12 million annual Union Learning Fund from spring 2021.

“Enormous contribution”

Unite Regional Officer Richard Bedford said union learning had made an “enormous contribution” to improving access to skills in Scarborough.

Working closely with Alexander Dennis Ltd (ADL Plaxton), who produce and export high quality, green buses around the world, the Union Learning Fund and Unite the Union have developed lifelong learning opportunities for 600 employees wishing to develop their skills.

These opportunities include training for Literacy and Numeracy skills, computer basics and gaining a qualification in Information Communication Technology through the Yorkshire Coast College, and Level 2 apprenticeship placements for 20 young people from the local area.

ADL Plaxton employee and learner on site Martin Moseley, has coordinated the workplace learning programme on site since 2014. He said, “ I am most proud of the fact that we have over the last five years helped so many of the workforce achieve qualifications that they either wouldn’t have thought of attaining or would have struggled to achieve without a financial outlay.”

ADL Plaxton have hailed the impact of these projects, saying “the Union Learning project has made a huge contribution to upskilling our employees. Basic skills training in literacy, numeracy and IT mean our employees benefit from lifelong learning, whilst improving productivity for the company. 

“Our site employs 600 people and 20 apprentices from across Scarborough and the wider district. We are proud to work with Unionlearn and Unite the Union to provide high quality jobs to local people.

“The loss of the Union Learning Fund would be very damaging at a time when all businesses are struggling with the economic downturn.”

Make UK North Region Director June Smith said “These are incredibly challenging times for manufacturers and their employees in Yorkshire. If we are going to build back better then the protection of key, high value skills within the sector is an absolute must.

“The Union Learning Fund is a key element of not just retaining people but also re-training them if necessary, especially in an era where digital skills are going to be ever more important.”

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.

7 in 10 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. 

TUC Regional Secretary Bill Adams said:

“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 Scarborough, 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 here on the Yorkshire Coast.

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

Case study

Plaxton employee


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.


TUC Press Office

Gareth Forest (Lewis)

0113 200 1075
07810 374976

Out of hours:

Bill Adams
07867 788856

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