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Business and unions hail “enormous contribution” made by union learning in improving access to skills in the North West

Union Learning projects in the North West include supporting workers in Blackpool with the union learning rep of the year, supporting apprentices, helping improve health amongst workers, and supporting workers with their mental health

TUC North West 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 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 Lynn Collins said union learning had made an “enormous contribution” to improving access to skills in the region. 

Union learning projects in the North West include: 

  • Unite learning rep Sue Mann was named TUC ULR of the Year for her work promoting learning opportunities to colleagues at Blackpool Transport 

  • USDAW members supporting apprentices in Tesco across Greater Manchester, to get the most from their schemes and achieve qualifications  

  • PCS members from HMRC working with the TUC as part of ‘Know your numbers’ awareness campaign, to support blood pressure testing and preventative action 

  • A mental health conference in January 2020 that heard how workplaces are supporting mental health initiatives including support for firefighters and professional footballers.  

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.   

TUC North West Regional Secretary Lynn Collins 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 the region, 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 the North West. 

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

Make UK North Region Director June Smith said: 

“These are incredibly challenging times for manufacturers and their employees in [area]. 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.” 

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.  

- Details on the projects mentioned can be found here: 

Unite/Blackpool Transport -  

USDAW/Apprentices -  

PCS/Know your numbers  -  

Mental health conference -  

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