Thank you for contacting me about the Union Learning Fund.
Funding for the Union Learning Fund has now ceased, with capital redirected elsewhere to support investment in skills and further education. I think it is right that Ministers regularly review how skills and training are funded, to make sure taxpayers’ money is invested as efficiently as possible and I can assure you that every penny of the funding provided will be reinvested into further education, skills and retraining.
Ministers are committed to ‘levelling up’ across the whole of the UK and have emphasised the importance of skills and training to the fulfilment of this ambition. The Prime Minister has set out a series of reforms to ensure everyone can get the skills they need. These reforms will be backed by continued investment in college buildings and facilities – including over £1.5 billion in capital funding to ensure the further education estate is fit for purpose.
One of the key reforms is the introduction of the Lifetime Skills Guarantee. Under the Guarantee, which has now launched, adults without an A-Level or equivalent qualification can access a free, fully-funded college course at a time and location of their choice. Further details, including the list of almost 400 fully funded courses included in this offer, can be found here - https://www.gov.uk/guidance/national-skills-fund
The economy has incurred substantial change as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and I am pleased that Ministers published the Further Education White Paper. It will make sure people can get the education and training they need to get great jobs, and employers can fill the skills gaps they currently face, boosting our productivity and improving our international competitiveness.
Skills Toolkit: A new online learning platform has also been launched to help people upskill during the Coronavirus pandemic. ‘The Skills Toolkit’ will provide free digital and numeracy courses to boost job prospects in this challenging time. The toolkit places particular emphasis on the skills that businesses need and I am pleased that the CBI and BT, among others, have welcomed the Prime Minister’s commitment.
National Careers Service: Extensive guidance is also available online via the National Careers Service website to help individuals find free online learning courses across a variety of disciplines. (https://nationalcareers.service.gov.uk/find-a-course/where-to-find-free…).
Support for Apprenticeships: As part of the 2021 Budget, the Chancellor announced increased support for apprenticeships. Employers in England who hire a new apprentice between 1 April and 30 September 2021 will receive a payment of £3,000, an increase on the £1,500-£2,000 previously available. The increase in these payments is in addition to the existing £1,000 payment offered to employers for all new 16-18 year-old apprentices and those aged under 25 with an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP). I am pleased that further support has been extended to encourage companies to provide apprenticeships, which I know provide valuable skills and training.
Flexi-Job Apprenticeship Schemes: I very much welcome that the Government has launched a consultation on flexi-job apprenticeships, which will make it easier for employers across all sectors of the economy to benefit from the positive impact that apprenticeships can bring to their business.
As I understand it, the Government’s proposals, which are to be backed by £7 million, will enable apprentices to work across a range of projects, and with different employers, to gain the full skills and experience required to complete their programme. As part of this, I am delighted that the consultation seeks to explore how more people can get involved in sectors with flexible employment patterns and short-term roles, such agriculture, construction and the creative sectors. I know that these sectors have previously found it challenging to create enough opportunities for apprentices, so the opening of this consultation marks an important step forwards.
Together with the Secretary of State for Education, I believe that these flexi-job apprenticeships will boost opportunities in industries where employment is often short-term. As the UK builds back better from the pandemic, I am confident that these proposals will help to create life changing opportunities right across the country.
Traineeships: After the Chancellor's announcement last year of £111 million to triple the number of traineeships, I welcome that this has been followed by an additional £126 million of funding in England for high quality work placements and training for 16-24 year olds in the 2021/22 academic year. Employers who provide work experience to trainees will continue to receive £1,000 per trainee.
Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.
Craig Whittaker MP