Select Committee on Education and Skills Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum from the Trades Union Congress (TUC) (ILA 22)

  1.  The TUC and its unions supported the concept underlying ILAs that individuals are best placed to choose what and how they want to learn and that responsibility for investing in learning is shared. At the same time unions, maintained their view that employers have sole responsibility for funding training which is directly related to their business objectives and that where there is a market failure in employer-provided training then statutory intervention is required.


  When the TEC pilots were introduced in 1998, the TUC set out some broad principles:

    —  avoid substitution; ILAs should not be used to pay for training which was job-related and which would otherwise have been paid by their employer. TEC and individual contributions to an account should be used to pay for the personal development of the individual;

    —  minimise deadweight; ensure that the lion's share of the public subsidy went to the non-traditional learners;

    —  ensure maximum access; with those with low incomes not excluded from opening an account by any rigid requirement for them to make a financial contribution;

    —  promote informed choice; providing high quality advice and guidance on how to use ILAs to meet their personal development needs;

    —  incentivise employer contributions to learning accounts;

    —  develop collective learning account models to maximise investment in employee development schemes/workplace learning centres etc;

    —  use intermediaries such as trade unions to promote learning accounts to employees, particularly non-traditional and "hard to reach" learners and provide them with front-line support and to broker provision.


  Trade unions have been recognised by the government as "workplace stakeholders" in learning and as such were involved in some of the TEC schemes. In spite of the differences in the TEC models in respect to eligibility, additional requirements over the mandatory requirements, and heavy bureaucracy leading to delays in accessing ILAs, unions did have a positive effect on the scheme. This was set out in an evaluation by York Consulting. Unions:

    —  aimed ILAs at non-traditional learners, those vulnerable to redundancy, and free-lance workers who have little access to the traditional employer frameworks for training and development;

    —  negotiated partnerships with employers and providers to help deliver ILA provision;

    —  ensured that quality advice and guidance was provided to ILA account holders;

    —  promoted ILAs within a package of support rather than a tool in their own right and often integrated them in specific training programmes.

  4.  The former TUC TEC Bargaining for Skills projects delivered much union support regionally through awareness events and resource materials. Union learning representatives at the workplace advised and supported their members accessing and using ILAs. This work was particularly developed in the North West and the London regions through a DfES TUC projects and activity in the South West. Furthermore, most projects funded by the DfES Union learning Fund had been an ILA element. With the demise of the TECs, this work continued under the national ILA framework and when the discount system replaced the £150 contribution on the opening of the one-millionth account.


  It is not possible to estimate the number of ILAs that have been opened as a result of union involvement. Nevertheless, in some TEC schemes unions have delivered significant numbers of learning accounts. For example, in one TEC a quarter of the ILAs were issued through unions. The union added value has however been in stimulating innovative partnerships in learning rather than in terms of number of ILAs opened. A selection of case studies of union involvement drawn up by York Consulting is attached. Certainly unions have targeted ILAs. According to a recent TUC survey of unions, unions were targeting learning accounts on the most difficult to access and engage in learning:

Target Groups
Percentage of Union Respondents
Targetting Groups
Shift workers
Low Paid
Part time workers
NVQ level 2 or below
Ethnic minorities
Women returners
Freelance/self employed

  6.  The fact that "trusted intermediaries" such as Union Learning Representatives have been able to provide front-line advice and guidance to their members accessing ILAs has greatly minimised the use of providers engaged in misusing ILAs. They have provided a sort of "quality guarantee". The impact of the withdrawal of ILAs ahs however had considerable implications for the trade union contribution to learning and skills. The TUC survey found:

    —  18,870 ILAs had been opened but not accessed by 24 October 2001, of which it was expect that 5,401 would be accessed by 7 December 2001. (Due to the announcement on 23 November 2001 this will not now be the case).

    —  Unions expected to their members use the following number of ILA's:

  By 31 March 2002: 21,107

  Between 1 April 2002 and 31 August 2002: 11,656

  Between 1 September 2002 and 31 December 2002: 13,900

  Total 46,663

    —  The total potential loss in funds would be between £6,999,450 and £9,332,600 (including the 5,401 since 23 November 2001) dependent on the level of subsidy (ie £150 cash or maximum of £200 discount).


  The TUC and its unions would like a new model to be introduced as soon as possible in order not to lose the considerable momentum for learning triggered by ILAs but with much more robust quality assurance built in. the DfES/LSC are consulting the TUC as a major partner in their lifelong learning strategy. A number of issues need to be addressed:


  There is a strong case that ILAs should continue to be open to all adults not in higher education as a way of promoting a lifelong learning culture but there is a need to minimise deadweight by reducing the subsidy to those with relatively high qualifications and more targeting of non-traditional learners.

  9.  According to a follow up study from York Consulting, over half of recent redeemers indicated that they would have been able to pay for their most recent ILA supported course. Under the discount system the funding was skewed to type of course than to type of learner and this might have encouraged deadweight. There clearly will be a limit to how government can respond to open-ended demand, which will result in capping expenditure. The Chancellor of Exchequer in his Pre-Budget Report indicated the need to target those 8 million people with qualifications below level 2. This was in response to the TUC CBI Report on Skills and Productivity, which he had commissioned. The report also indicated that free learning support could be given to such individuals. The government's intentions are likely to be announced in the Budget itself. If such entitlements and employer subsidies are introduced over time then initial level 2 learning—like the present free tuition for basic skills—might not need to be funded through a learning account.

10.  SCOPE

  ILAs could be used to promote lifelong learning and perhaps should cover a wide spectrum of personal development as well as advice and guidance. There is a need for the government to consider whether a differential discount related to type of course is the right way to target public support or whether actual monies should go into learning accounts which could purchase different provision. Such ILAs might have both a save and borrowing function.


  The government will have to consider ways in which providers are more regulated such as using certificated providers.


  Another important way of limiting the misuse of ILAs is to provide a high quality advice and guidance service for potential learners. The new Information and Adult Guidance service and the introduction of national standards will greatly help. The introduction of statutory rights for union learning representatives in recognised workplaces will assist such representatives to provide their members with front-line advice on how to access high quality learning opportunities. Such rights are set out in the Employment Bill which is passing through Parliament.


  There is a strong case for considering collective models whereby financial incentives are given to the employee, employer and other organisations to contribute to a company learning fund to provide for learning which is agreed between the parties eg employee development programmes and running work-based learning centres.

  14.  Finally, there has been much development work in the past on ILAs and this will need to be revisited and evaluated when developing new models.

Trades Union Congress (TUC)

January 2002

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