Activities outside Parliament

Launch on Friday 4th September 2009 of the Welsh Union Learning Fund Project

Pathways to Partnerships with Community Connexions and Employer Pledge

“A Community of Learning”

Statement by Dr Hywel Francis, MP for Aberavon


Personal commitment

I am very pleased to be with you today to give my full support, as the local Member of Parliament, as an individual member of the Community Trade Union and as a former tutor in community adult education and trade union studies.

I have always been impressed both by the commitment of Community to the personal development of its members and by local steel employers from the Steel Company of Wales to Corus and Tata today in giving all their employees the opportunity to acquire new skills and to achieve their full personal potential.

The way the Union and the local Management have always been prepared to work closely together to achieve their twin common goals of educating citizens and building a more prosperous business, is something we have always valued, indeed, cherished here in Port Talbot.

The Local Legacy

Over fifty years ago, in 1954, Port Talbot was the location of a unique experiment, and we stand on its firm foundations today. Trade Unions led by Community’s fore-runner ISTC launched a Trade Union education scheme with the Workers’ Educational Association (WEA) and later with the involvement of my University in Swansea, and also with the full support of the local management of the Steel Company of Wales.

It was one of the first three Trade Union schemes of its kind in the whole of the United Kingdom. My old friend and colleague, the late Eddie Jenkins and also the late Dick Lewis were the pioneers and many hundreds of steel union representatives benefited from their sterling work which was to last for over four decades.

It is interesting to note that the scheme was visionary: a vision I believe which is shared today by Community and Tata. The WEA wished to develop what it called “education for social responsibility”. A report which I wrote in 1986 of this initiative three decades before, summarised the excitement of learning half a century ago:

“The bulk of the work involved organising weekend schools at Porthcawl’s Esplanade Hotel, it was an innovation to have education in such splendid and pleasant surroundings and many of the WEA frowned on the development because young people were “ enjoying” themselves. The work also involved addressing canteen meetings on the virtues of adult education: very many of the Trade Unionists were women whose introduction to study and Trade Unionism came through the weekend schools…..”1

Eventually, thanks to Trade Union and employer co-operation locally, twenty four week annual programmes of day-release study over a three year period were established and sustained. This enhanced the weekend opportunities enormously. It ensured that the practical needs of Trade Unionists in the form of studying economics and industrial relations, along with communication skills were allied to studying History and Literature all came together to achieve “education for citizenship”.

The Challenge Today

Half a century has passed but the twin challenges of skills enhancement and an educated citizenship remain as true today as it was in the 1950’s. We are now blessed with the Labour Government’s excellent initiative in 1997 of the Wales Union Learning Fund, strengthened subsequently by the increased support of the Welsh Assembly Government, European Funding and critical backing from the Wales TUC, CBI Wales, NIACE Dysgu Cymru and many educational and training bodies, notably as ever the WEA and many others represented here today including my own Swansea University and also the Open University.

In very recent times the Leitch Report on skills and its equivalent in Wales, the Webb Report placed great emphasis on higher level skills and this was the main finding of the Welsh Affairs Committee Report on Globalisation. The old adage of “think global act local” and “knowledge is power” has never been more relevant.

And as if to add emphasis to the need to sustain lifelong learning opportunities in the widest range of locations and modes of delivery, the national adults learning body, NIACE will be publishing a Report on the 17th September entitled “Learning through Life: enquiry into the future of lifelong learning”. The Report addresses two big challenges facing us today: an ageing society and changing patterns of paid and unpaid activity.

The June issue of the journal Adults Learning focussed on what the economic recession means for lifelong learning. In particular there is proper recognition of what unions do for their members in preparing workers who need to acquire new and better skills to cope with the economic downturn. Union learning reps are rightly described as ‘trusted intermediaries’ building a sense of confidence and achievement.

David Blunkett, the “father” of the present Labour Government’s lifelong learning strategy said this in his foreword to the Green Paper, The Learning Age. This should be our watchword now and in the future:

‘Learning enables people to play a full part in their community. It strengthens the family, the neighbourhood and consequently the nation. It helps us fulfill our potential and opens doors to a love of music, art and literature. That is why we value learning for its own sake as well as for the equality of opportunity it brings. To realise our ambition, we must all develop and sustain a regard for learning at whatever age.’


I believe this Project we are launching here today relates very clearly to these big challenges.

I wish the Project well. It has the benefit of standing on very firm local foundations which I have briefly described to you this morning, and as in the past it benefits too, from the strong co-operation and partnership of local employee representatives and local management.

I look forward to hearing of the undoubted progress and success of what we should all call a “Community of Learning” simultaneously building citizens, skills and prosperity for us all.

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