Big Issue North magazine, December 2020
Union Learning Defunded
Trade union adult education cancelled
Fund contributes £1.4bn to economy
A long-running adult education programme brokered by the trade union movement is to end after the government ended its funding.
The decision, made only days after Boris Johnson announced a Lifetime Skills Guarantee for adults, is being opposed not only by trade unions but also employers.
The Union Learning Fund (ULF), which began in 1998, is managed by the Trades Union Congress (TUC) and provides courses and qualifications in everything from information technology to communication skills and mentoring apprenticeships.
Boosting jobs and wages
The ULF, now due to end March 2021, was worth £12 million in 2019-2020, supporting over 200,000 learners in workplaces across England – both union members and non-members.
Union learning reps (ULR) lead the fund. Elected by colleagues and recognised by their employer, they identify training requirements and promote lifelong learning in the workforce, many of whom have previously proven reluctant to return to education. ULRs have statutory recognition.
Many employers have recognised that the ULF can improve their employees’ skills. Five years ago, the Big Issue North covered the story of First Bus UK in Manchester where it was at the prompting of one of the company directors that the union Unite opened an onsite learning centre.
An evaluation by researchers from Exeter University in 2018 calculated that every £1 spent on the ULF brings in a return of £12.30: £7.60 to the worker, £4.70 to the employer. The TUC claims the fund contributes £1.4 billion annually to the economy by boosting jobs, wages and productivity.
HGV driver Gary McAllister has been a ULR at logistics company Wincanton in St Helens since Unite and shop workers union Usdaw signed a deal with his employer. He said: “You’d be surprised how many drivers have no computer skills and it is exciting seeing them grow in confidence so that they no longer fear using computers for simple things like emailing younger family members.
We have also organised many mental health awareness courses and even occasional ones for Spanish.
“Management is prepared to support workers who go on the courses in their spare time by agreeing to allow them paid release from work for half the study time. I am very disappointed to discover the ULF is likely to end.”
At Victoria Hospital in Blackpool, the emphasis is on providing online courses via the local college, including basic maths and English, as well as team leading and mental health awareness.
“The courses mean skill levels have obviously increased and whilst some course members are inspired by building their portfolios, others just enjoy learning new skills,” said ULR Barry Casey. “I believe the government is scrapping the ULF for its own ideological reasons as it is hostile to trade unions.”
Unions were told in October by the Department for Education (DfE) that the annual fund would cease. Only days beforehand, Boris Johnson promised to “give people of all ages the means and the confidence to switch and get the skills they need”.
Emma Taylor, Tesco people director, was among employers speaking out in favour of the ULF, saying its Checkout Learning programme had benefited 43,000 learners, including some employees that other schemes could not reach.
The DfE did not answer a series of questions from Big Issue North but a spokesperson highlighted Johnson’s comments and said that ending the ULF was due to “investing the money to directly support further education colleges, other training providers and our new £2.5 billion National Skills Fund to help more people learn new skills and prepare for the jobs of the future”.
My heritage work with the Professional Footballers Association (PFA) 2016 - 2020
A) 2016: a plaque to the first ever goalscorer in the football league
In November 2016 the PFA financially supported the blue plaque unveiling that celebrated Bolton Wanderers’ Kenny Davenport as the first ever goalscorer in the football league.
The goal, originally thought to have been an own goal by Aston Villa’s Gershom Cox, was revealed in 2013 when myself and Robert Boyling from the British Library discovered that the kick-off in the Aston Villa game had been delayed.
This meant that Davenport’s goal at 3:47pm on September 8, 1888, for Bolton Wanderers against Derby County signified the first ever football league goal.
The plaque, which was placed in the same area as Wanderers’ former ground, Pikes Lane, was unveiled by Robert and myself in November 2016 with the Mayor of Bolton, and Kenny Davenport’s family in attendance.
I was quoted as saying at the time:
When I was writing my Origins of the Football League book that was published by Amberley I didn’t quite buy that Gershom Cox was the first ever goalscorer in the football league.
Following the unveiling, which was screened live on Granada News, Robert and myself along with my son, Charlie, and PFA Chief Executive, Gordon Taylor, were also welcomed onto the pitch at half-time during Bolton’s 1-0 victory against Coventry City.
Phil Mason, Bolton Wanderers Chaplain, said at the time:
This is such a significant occasion as we gather to celebrate a key moment in Bolton Wanderers football club.
Kenny Davenport was the first Bolton player to play for England and was part of the first group of footballers to become professionals in 1885.
The blue plaque is visible on the Lostock Electrical Projects Company building on Bankfield Street.
B) 2018: Overseeing the blue plaques and murals in Blackpool to England stars Jimmy Armfield and Frank Swift
On 6 September 2018, the 1958 Munich hero Harry Gregg made the trip by car and ferry to Blackpool to unveil a plaque at Revoe Library to the Manchester City and England legendary keeper Frank Swift, who on 6 February 1958 sadly perished at Munich airport.
This was one of two blue plaques unveiled on the day. The other was at the nearby Lune Grove entrance of Revoe Learning Academy, which both attended and where twin murals, designed by the current pupils, of the players have also taken pride of place in the new sports based playground. Families of both men attended on the day and the event was attended by a number of football fans of various teams.
I co-ordinated the work to honour these two great players in which the PFA, Blackpool Civic Trust, the school and the two men’s families all worked together to bring to fruition an idea first mooted by Frank’s late daughter Iris to myself when I was writing a biography of her father that was published by DB publishing.
C) November 2018 : A plaque to Fred Spiksley at Gainsborough Trinity FC
The book Flying Over an Olive Grove: the remarkable story of Fred Spiksley, a flawed football hero by myself and Clive and Ralph Nicholson that was first published by Red Axe in 2016 has long since sold out. A paperback edition is set for release by Pen and Sword Publishers in the summer of 2021. The work is now the background to the film on the early history of professional football by Rough Jersey Productions that I set up with the assistance of Clive Nicholson. http://roughjersey.com/
Before moving on to Sheffield Wednesday, Spiksley was a star at his hometown club of Gainsborough Trinity from 1887-1891. In 2018, Trinity decided to put up a plaque at their ground to commemorate him and it was unveiled by Jason Lee from the PFA.
D) October 2019: Red plaque to John Aston senior at his Manchester school
In October 2019 a red Manchester City Council plaque was unveiled at the school of former pupil John Aston senior, the great Manchester United player and coach who also played for England on many occasions. The chief guest was Brian Kidd, who spoke warmly about how John Aston senior played a great part in developing his talents when he was a young player at Old Trafford in the 1960s. European Cup winner John Aston junior, who in the weeks leading up to the unveiling had spoken, along with myself, to all the pupils currently at the school, was deeply touched at the day’s events at which Denis Law was present along with a number of former professional footballers including Gordon Taylor, the PFA Chief Executive. Also present were a number of two current school pupils and they gave great speeches.
I was delighted to see the work I had played in co-ordinating the above unveiling prove so productive.
E) June 2021
Thanks to the PFA it is proposed to unveil plaques to Joe Mercer and Stan Cullis at Cambridge Road Primary School that they attended in Ellesmere Port. In early November 2020 I co-ordinated a meeting, at the school and a series of events are being planned surrounding the planned unveilings, which it is great to report will be attended by descendants of these former great players and managers.
F) August 7 2021
Coach Bert Whalley was tragically killed at Munich on 6 February 1958. Before moving in 1934 to Old Trafford as a player, Bert played for Stalybridge Celtic and where the club has agreed to unveil a plaque to honour him prior to a pre-season friendly game on 7 August 2021. Further events are to be organised by the club in conjunction with the PFA.