Employers and skills bodies back learning fund the Tories are trying to axe

"The timing of this decision is bizarre in the extreme."

Gavin Williamson

The Government’s decision to axe the Union Learning Fund has been met with growing opposition from major employers organisations and skills bodies.

They’ve written to Education Minister Gavin Williamson saying that the ULF provides vital funding for leading skills initiatives – just as a wave of unemployment sweeps the UK.

Employers and skills bodies have expressed ‘surprise and disappointment’ at the decision, which was announced earlier this month.

The letter says the announcement flies in the face of the Prime Minister’s pledge for a ‘Lifetime Skills Guarantee’ which recognised the need for workers to update their skills constantly. 

Funding for the Union Learning Funding (ULF) and UnionLearn will cease in April. The TUC says the decision came without any notice and has led to the TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady to demand a meeting with Gavin Williamson. The union-backed schemes provides enormous economic benefits, supporting 200,000 learners in 2019 at a cost to government of just £12m a year.

The seven CEOs from employer organisations and skills bodies say the move will weaken the workforce, damage businesses and worsen the economic crisis.

Ann Watson, CEO of engineering skills body Enginuity, said: “The timing of this decision is bizarre in the extreme. These two vital skills operations are needed more now than ever – just as a tsunami of redundancies will crash across the country.

“These two initiatives would have played a significant role in supporting employees, the businesses they work for – and the UK economy. The Government needs to urgently rethink this decision.”

Many workplaces have been supported by the projects, including thousands threatened by redundancy.

An independent valuation by the Universities of Exeter and Leeds on the Union Learning Fund found that for every £1 invested produced a return £12.30 to the economy (£4.70 to the employer and £7.60 to the individual).

The letter to Gavin Williamson says: “Speaking on behalf of the whole sector, we would urge you to reconsider the decision to remove funding for ULF and unionlearn. In the manufacturing sector this will lead to a reduction in support for workers and employers who are doing their utmost to upskill and retrain in these very challenging times.”

Signatories to the letter are: 

Stephen Phipson – CEO of the Engineering and manufacturing employers body Make UK; Iain Wright CBE – CEO of the Food & Drink Federation; Dr Laura Cohen MBE –  CEO of the British Ceramic Federation; Ann Watson CEO of the engineering and manufacturing skills body Enginuity; Justine Fosh – CEO of the Chemicals, Pharma and Nuclear skills body Cogent; James Selka – CEO of The Manufacturing Technologies Association and Dick Elsy CBE- CEO of the HVM Catapult.

Tony Burke represents trade unions on the boards of Enginuity and Cogent. He is a Contributing Editor for Left Foot Forward.

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