Labour: Scrapping Union Learning Fund is ‘vindictive’

Shadow minister says decision to scrap fund was based on Gavin Williamson's 'antipathy towards the trade union sector'
4th November 2020, 5:24pm

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Labour: Scrapping Union Learning Fund is ‘vindictive’

https://www.tes.com/magazine/archive/labour-scrapping-union-learning-fund-vindictive
Labour Would Not Scrap T Levels If It Came To Power, Says Shadow Apprenticeships Minister Toby Perkins

The scrapping of the Union Learning Fund was a vindictive decision by the government, Labour MP and shadow apprenticeships and lifelong learning minister Toby Perkins has said.

Speaking at a Westminster Hall Debate on further education funding today, Mr Perkins said the decision was based on "the secretary of state's antipathy towards the trade union sector."

 "[A decision] I see is entirely vindictive, which is to scrap the Union Learning Fund, a tiny proportion of the money that's been spent on skills at a time when we know the government can't even spend the money that it has got," he said.

"It seems to be focused not on any evidence base that shows that the programme doesn't work - because it does work - but actually based on the secretary of state's antipathy towards the trade union sector."


News: College funding increases set to be 'eroded' by Covid

Union Learning Fund cut: Williamson 'won't apologise'

Background: Union Learning Fund to be scrapped from March 2021


In October, Tes revealed that the government had scrapped the £11 million fund, which delivers a range of learning and training programmes. 

The decision came days after prime minister Boris Johnson announced a "skills guarantee" for adult learners. A week later, education secretary Gavin Williamson told MPs that he would not apologise for scrapping a fund that "channelled money into the TUC".

Ditching the Union Learning Fund

When asked to explain the decision today, apprenticeships and skills minister Gillian Keegan said the government was trying to streamline delivery partners.

"Effectively, what we've been looking to do is, we've actually increased our entitlement to a lot of basic entitlement now so we have English, maths [and a] digital entitlement as well. What we're trying to do is also streamline the delivery partners, including to the devolved areas as well, to make sure that it's simpler for people to get easy and broader access," she said.

"So that was the decision that was made and and I communicated that personally to the general secretary of the TUC." 

 

'Counterproductive'

MPs urged Ms Keegan to reverse the decision. Wera Hobhouse, Liberal Democrat MP for Bath, said that it was clear the Union Learning Fund model worked - and that it was counterproductive to scrap it from March 2021.

She said: "On average, training volumes are 19 per cent higher in unionised workplaces. It is counterproductive that the Department of Education has decided to empty the ULF from March 2021. Union learning gets people into skills training that they would otherwise not access. "[The fund] reaches people that other DfE programmes do not.

"Despite government funding, the take-up of English and maths qualifications for adults has declined by 30 per cent since 2010. In comparison, ULF projects continually exceed annual target for these learners."

Rachael Maskell, Labour MP for York Central, said she expected to see a "Rolls-Royce" of a replacement. "We know that there's a terrible problem with productivity and, therefore, to be able to help the government in that, I would have thought they would see the real value in the UFL," she said. "I trust that if the Union Learning Fund is ending, then a Rolls-Royce version of a new fund will come forward which actually embraces the value of trade unions on the ground."

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