Round 17 Union Learning Project (England)

Circular No. NP/01/17

4th January 2017

To: All Branches & Regional Councils, Regional Organisers.

Dear Colleague

Round 17 Union Learning Funded Project (England).   

Members will be aware that for many years, in fact since its introduction by the then Labour Govt, the RMT has had an externally funded learning project in England. The funding (public money) coming from Union Learn (TUC) having been granted to Union Learn for distribution to individual Unions for Union specific Learning projects. Originally not all within the Trade Union movement were convinced of its place within our work but quickly over the years and due largely to the commitment of those employed within the project a majority of members of Trade Unions, including our own, welcomed the opportunities it offered members up and down the country. Many members have taken advantage of the considerable opportunities the various projects over the years has offered, equally important the projects have enabled the Union to develop a cadre of trained Union Learning Representatives (ULR’s) to support and advise members on Learning issues as well as assisting with union organising in the workplace.

Under the Labour Govt the RMT applied for and was granted funding from the Union Learning Fund (ULF) on a 2 or 3-year basis, a significant part of this funding was to provide for an RMT Learning Project team of 9 staff. These staff were employed on ‘Fixed Term Contracts’ according to the length of the project funding received. Following the 2010 General Election and the formation of the ConDemn Govt, and the subsequent election of the current Tory Govt (and in particular the latter) the whole issue of the funding and management of ULF learning projects in England has come under severe pressure and political scrutiny. Some of the results of this approach which is fuelled by political opposition to funding trade unions to provide learning for workers has been;

•    Funding Applications are granted for only a year at a time and only granted formally weeks before the beginning of a new project, creating staffing problems and making effective planning more difficult
•    Project reporting to Union Learn increased year on year, now required monthly
•    Move from ‘Union Learn’ to ‘Employer Learn’ effectively marginalising Trade Unions
•    Introduction of Performance Related Funding – Project costs can’t be reimbursed to Unions unless all targets are fully met, potentially exposing the Union to meeting the costs.

For the current Round 17 project which was funded only from 1st April 2016 to March 31st 2017 the original bid had to reflect a hugely reduced ‘cost per learner’ which required a reduction of fourfold in the cost per learner and a corresponding increase in the projects required targets. This was always going to be a near impossible task to succeed in (and what the political agenda was about) and so it proved. The project was identified as underperforming and a ‘recovery plan’ put into place, which effectively required the project to meet its original targets and catch up on those not met. Subsequently Union Learn decided that the RMT project had underperformed to an extent that our project funding was cut from £400,000 for the year to £280,000, raising the prospect of significant costs falling to the RMT. In the weeks leading up to the Christmas break it was clear the project was still unable to meet the required targets and faced the real prospect of a further cut in funding. Throughout this very difficult time, contact (s) with Union Learn has been extensive and ongoing, the National Executive Committee (NEC) has received numerous reports and copies of relevant communications, and Staff and their Representatives have been consulted. Following discussions with the Staff and their Representatives it was agreed that I, on behalf of the Union, offer the existing 6 Project staff on the ‘Fixed Term Contracts’ a voluntary severance (VR) proposal. At the close of this VR offer all but two staff indicated that they wished to accept the VR proposal, effectively leaving the Union with a project team of two staff (and no Project manager). In view of this and the already difficult situation the NEC at their meeting of 21st December 2016 the following decision was taken;

“That we note the report from the General Secretary and agree to the ending of the Round 17 Project and instruct the General Secretary to deal with the matter accordingly.

Further, we instruct the General Secretary to bring a report back before the NEC on the structure of our current workplace Union Learning Representatives to ensure that our representatives are able to continue their work within their companies.”

Following this decision I have informed Union Learn of our decision to close the Round 17 project. I am required to provide some additional information to Union Learn with regard to our Round 18 Project bid for funding (£200,000 – due to commence if accepted on 1st April 2017 for one year) and this is being drafted. I am also preparing the required report to the NEC on how the existing and future ULR’s can be fully supported and integrated into the RMT structures.

The last two years have been extremely difficult for all involved and the blame for the problems that have beset the RMT Learning Project are fully the fault of a Govt unwilling to recognise the benefits of the learning agenda and support it positively. It has been especially difficult for the staff involved and I continue to deal with those involved and their Representatives to resolve the issues the current situation has raised.

I will continue to keep the NEC and members informed.

Yours sincerely

Mick Cash
General Secretary