Published On: Tue, Jan 26th, 2021

UnionDues: Does the government have a plan for boosting skills in Britain?

A forthcoming government White Paper on skills which will give employers a direct role in designing new qualifications starting with the post-16 age band.

The latest UnionDues podcast (available here from midday today) looks at a flaw in the plans, with Professor  Mel Simms presenting a challenge to the government’s approach.

It would be easier to take the government’s skills push more seriously were they not slashing funding to the Union Learning Fund.

Special guest Kevin Rowan talks about the TUC-led campaign to change the government’s mind about cutting funding to the ULF.  There has been much campaigning on this already, but if you are new to the debate, make sure you are sitting down with a cuppa before listening – it’s a terrible illustration of cutting of your nose to spite your face, as the saying goes. As Kevin says: “How can the government bring forward an industrial strategy without a huge skills element?”

The ULF is that skills element – and it’s an unqualified success.  The return on investment is £15 generated for every £1 spent.  It is backed by serious heavyweight employers. And it’s been supported by Labour, Coalition and (until now) Conservative governments. 

The ULF delivers increased skills across the spectrum – from basic literacy to high-end digital applications – to learners regarded as hard-to-reach.  The growth in personal ability and confidence as well as the overall skills level of the country is real and important.

As Kevin says: “At a time when there is the highest need, we are taking away one of the most important tools in enabling people to access skills,” adding that  the TUC has “yet to receive the logic or a clear explanation” for the Department for Education decision to cut the £12m annual funding. It’s “not even a tear in the salty sea of government finances,” says Kevin.

Indeed, Kevin talks of impassioned testimonies from individuals who have benefited from Union learning. “It’s been really overwhelming.” 

“There’s no financial, treasury, or taxpayer perspective that doesn’t support the ULF……that’s one of the most frustrating aspects of this.  Many have concluded that this is an obviously political decision.”  Hear the full story on the podcast.

We also talk about plans for a cultural renaissance in Kevin’s home town of Barrow in Furness – a significant community with over 65 000 residents, but often overlooked.

Kevin started his working life at VSEL, now owned by BAE Systems and still the town’s major employer.The local authority under Chief Executive Sam Plum has attracted significant new lottery funding which could, just could, transform the town.

From the it is a short step to the vitally important role the cultural sector plays in our lives, and the ongoing crisis – and it literally is a crisis – in that sector.  All power to the great campaign being run by Bectu, Equity the MU and other unions with members in this sector.

Plus LFF’s very own Josiah Mortimer with the weekly Radical Roundup, homing in under-reported news about the EU Settlement Scheme, fire-and-rehire madness (now the subject of a new TUC report), big problems at DVLA in Swansea, and poverty both in and out of employment.

You can access all episodes of the UnionDues podcast here.

Simon Sapper is a trade unionist and host of the UnionDues podcast.

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