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Government accused of ‘insulting thousands of workers’ over axing of union learning fund

THE government has been accused of “insulting hundreds of thousands of workers” after confirming plans to axe funding for Britain’s most successful workplace training scheme.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson refused to reconsider withdrawing £12 million granted to the Union Learning Fund (ULF) when asked in the Commons on Monday.

Unionlearn provides skills training which improves the lives and productivity of 200,000 workers a year.

It is supported by major employers such as Tesco, Heathrow airport, Tata Steel, FirstBus, CrossCountry, British Steel and Arla Foods, and administered by trade unions.

Makerfield Labour MP Yvonne Fovargue MP asked in the Commons: “Would the Secretary of State reconsider the decision to scrap this highly successful programme and fund it through the national skills programme?”

“No” was Mr Williamson’s curt answer.

Retail workers’ union Usdaw said it was “appalled” by the derisory answer, calling it “an insult to hundreds of thousands of workers.”

Usdaw general secretary Paddy Lillis said: “It is no surprise, but still shocking and deeply insulting, that the Secretary of State dismissed this question.

“He has not engaged with the trade unions, education providers and businesses that work together to deliver projects through the ULF and didn’t even consult before deciding to pull funding from hundreds of thousands of learners.

“In our experience, union learning is uniquely able to engage and support ‘disadvantaged’ learners. 

“Most had few, if any, qualifications and would never have considered attending a college, or signing up for an online course, if it were not for the support and encouragement of union learning reps in the workplace.

“If the government is serious about ‘levelling up,’ they must understand that workplace learning provides a vital pathway to the lifetime skills guarantee.”

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