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

The TUC in Yorkshire & the Humber, Sheffield City Region Mayor, Tesco, and the Make UK industry group 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”

BFAWU General Secretary Sarah Woolley said union learning had made an “enormous contribution” to improving access to skills in the local area.

Fletchers Bakery in Sheffield employ 300 people, and have worked with Unionlearn and the BFAWU to provide skills courses on basic literacy, numeracy, as well as health & safety in the workplace.

Mick Neville, an employee at Fletchers who built his skills via the Unionlearn courses on offer at work, has risen to become the company site trainer. He said “Attending trade union courses that were provided to me free of charge as a BFAWU union member has undoubtedly assisted me in my role as site trainer at Fletchers.

“I have gained so much knowledge from these courses around workplace health and safety legislation and the educational needs and requirements of our employees.

“The knowledge I have gained now allows me to train our employees in a manner that enables and assists them in carrying out their daily roles in an efficient and confident way.”

Next have worked with Unionlearn and Usdaw trade union to set up training centres at their Redhouse Doncaster and South Elmsall sites. The project delivers literacy and numeracy skills training to the whole workforce, improving lives and offering high quality jobs to local people.

An Assistant Site Manager at Next said of a recent ‘Writing Matters’ course set up by Unionlearn:

“This is without a doubt one of the best courses I have been on in my time at Next. Grammar and writing has always been a sticking point for me and no matter what I did, I felt I was never able to get any better.

“This course has been invaluable at supporting me with that and I finally feel confident in my ability to check my own work and send a grammatically correct email.”

Union learning projects in South Yorkshire also include redundancy support at Pennine Foods, where staff being made redundant were offered CV writing, interview practice and other courses to support them in finding new work.

Mayor Dan Jarvis said “I am deeply concerned about the proposed cuts to the Union Learning Fund, which is a vitally important means of enabling workers to reskill throughout their working life.

“As Mayor, I am working hard to ensure that workers across South Yorkshire can access lifelong learning opportunities and the high-skilled jobs we are creating locally. As part of the South Yorkshire Devolution Deal, we have taken responsibility for the £36 million Adult Education Budget and our innovative ‘Working Win’ programme has helped 6,000 local people with mental and physical health conditions get into and stay in work.”

Tesco hailed the impact of these projects on improving the skills of its staff, saying “We have always been a supporter of Lifelong Learning, and the ‘Checkout Learning’ campaign that Tesco and Usdaw developed together 15 years ago has now benefited more than 43,000 learners.

“Usdaw and Union Learn are able to reach colleagues that other schemes would not”

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 South Yorkshire, 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 in South Yorkshire.

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


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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