This week, Labour MPs have been mounting a campaign to persuade the government to reverse its terrible decision to stop funding the Union Learning Fund. For just £12 million per year, the ULF helps 200,000 working people, many with no or low skills, to return to education. It helps to transform lives.
But the government wants to scrap it. No matter that £12 million is a very small amount compared to the £2.5 billion set aside for the new national skills fund. Never mind that an evaluation by Exeter University showed that for every pound spent on the ULF, over £12 is returned to the economy. The secretary of state ignores these inconvenient facts for the sake of his ideological dislike of unions.
Many Tory MPs disagree with him, and not a single one was prepared to speak in support of the government in a debate called by my colleague Lilian Greenwood MP on Wednesday. Instead, Labour MP after Labour MP stood up to describe the difference the ULF had made to working people in their constituencies, and to plead with the minister to continue funding it. The plea fell on deaf ears, but we certainly haven’t given up the fight, and if you want to show your support, we’d be delighted if you’d sign the TUC’s petition.
While Lilian’s debate was happening, I was speaking at the Association of Colleges’ conference about the importance of lifelong learning. It’s a strange experience giving a speech to an empty room, while your audience watches on zoom. But, as with those who benefit from the ULF, staff and students at colleges up and down the country place a high value on access to education. Further education colleges have suffered significant funding cuts in the past decade, but now, with unemployment rising and many jobs disappearing, possibly for good, as a result of the pandemic, they have never been more needed, as people seek to retrain and gain new skills to enable them to look for new employment. Late in the day, the government has woken up to the colleges’ importance, but with many details of its plans unclear, the AoC (and I) have a lot of questions.
Today, I caught up with charity Human Appeal, who are running their annual Wrap Up campaign, inviting people to donate unwanted coats that they will distribute among homeless and needy people. This year’s campaign has been running for the past couple of weeks, and you’ve now got just until Sunday to drop off a coat at a number of locations around Manchester, including Safe Store in Old Trafford. For more information about how to donate a coat, visit the website. This is such a good initiative, and I really hope you’ll give it your support as we head into the winter.