The UK Government this week committed to abolishing the Union Learning Fund in England – and a Welsh Conservative Government would do the same in Wales, writes Darren Millar MS.
There are some unions that are worth defending. Like the United Kingdom. But there are other unions that are based on far murkier deals, such as the relationship between the Labour Party and the trade union movement.
Boris Johnson’s radical government sees that and has announced it will end the trade union-led Union Learning Fund in England.
As ever, Welsh Labour is having none of it. Ken Skates tweeted on Thursday night: “This is NOT the case in Wales. Here, the @WelshGovernment will continue to fund the Wales Union Learning Fund as a vital part of our response to Covid-19.”
The Economy Minister’s tweet comes just days after it emerged that he had written to employers strongarming them into having unionised workforces in exchange for pandemic support grants.
Well, for the Welsh Conservatives, I’ll do more than a tweet. I’ll announce a policy.
A Welsh Conservative Government would abolish the Wales Union Learning Fund, or WULF, as it is also known.
Our motivation for doing this is simple. It’s not to just copy a policy because it’s being done in England. It’s to implement a policy because it is right for Wales. It’s time to end the handouts of hundreds of thousands of pounds every year to Labour’s mates in the trade union movement.
Just take a look at how this pot of cash has grown during the life of the current Welsh Parliament:
2016/17 – £1,226,485.31
2017/18 – £1,350,000.00
2018/19 – £1,350,000.00
2019/20 – £1,520,998.71
2020/21 – £1,652,916.12
That’s an increase of almost half a million pounds – a growth rate of around a third – at the same time that the Welsh Labour Government has been starving front line health services and local authorities pretending it has no money to do anything.
So the Wales Union Learning Fund will be abolished.
And it is just the Wales Union Learning Fund that will be abolished. The money allocated to it will be used for other projects within the skills portfolio, so the amount of cash will not decrease. It will just be spent differently.
So the core purposes of the existing fund is to provide training programmes including schemes to improve maths, English and digital skills, growing apprenticeship provision and seeking solutions to skills shortages will continue. These are laudable aims, but people should not have to join a union to access such opportunities.
Under a Welsh Conservative Government, this funding would go directly to properly contracted training providers and Further Education colleges to boost their excellent work. Colleges would receive at least £1 million. That’s a pledge. The days of Further Education and vocational educational providers being the last in the queue for Welsh Government support, and always the first in the queue for Welsh Labour Government cuts, has to end.
Equally importantly, this cash will no longer be spent on Labour’s mates. In coming weeks, the Welsh Conservatives will have more to say about making sure public money doesn’t follow the ‘mates rates’ pattern that has been a feature of the last two decades. We need a general clean up of how money flows to favoured charities and anointed organisations from the coffers of a Welsh Labour Government that continually pretends it doesn’t have money for anything and it’s all the fault of bogeymen in Westminster.
The big bad WULF is one of the best examples of this.
Without doubt there be consequences of the ending of the Wales Union Learning Fund. The biggest one will be that the trade unions will have a million and a half pounds per year less to give back to the Wales Labour Party to fight elections. The political money laundering cycle will stop.
We will continue to invest in skills but the difference is that we would actually make sure that cash is invested in the right way, in people, not Labour’s mates.
Because that’s the bottom line here. Government resources are precious. And they are all the more precious to us as Conservatives because we always remember one thing that Labour has never learnt: there is no such thing as government money, it is taxpayer’s money, it is your money.
And that’s why we will spend it more effectively and more efficiently than they do.
So join our devolution revolution so that they can’t waste any more of your hard-earned cash.
Darren Millar is the Member of the Senedd for Clwyd West and the Director of Policy for the Welsh Conservatives.