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Tories face flak on cuts

NEWS - Conservative Party plan to abolish Union Learning Fund as part of £35 billion target prompts backlash

CONSERVATIVE plans to slash spending on workplace learning for construction operatives have provoked outrage from trade unions and politicians.

The Tories targeted the Union Learning Fund for abolition last week as part of its programme of cuts to make £35 billion in public savings.

The fund currently provides £28 million to work-based learning programmes, with several schemes benefiting construction workers.There are 86 projects under way.

The future of a major centre in London's Docklands, which has been teaching English to foreign construction workers for three years, is also threatened by the proposals.

It was formed by a three-way partnership between construction union Ucatt, Canary Wharf Contractors and Lewisham College, and funded by the ULF. Ucatt official Chris Tiff, who helped set up the centre, said: 'Abolition would be a denial of every construction worker's right to a further education.'

TGWU construction secretary Bob Blackman said: 'These plans would have a very big impact.We've been in early discussions with the London Borough of Greenwich over education reps on a number of construction sites, but if the funding disappeared then that would all be dead in the water.'

Labour MP Jim Sheridan attacked Tory plans in a Westminster debate on health and safety last week.

He said: 'I am concerned about the announcement that the trade union learning fund, which does a great deal to help shop stewards and health and safety representatives educate their members and colleagues in the workplace, will be cut should a Conservative government come to power.'

Shadow work and pensions minister Tim Boswell responded that the fund 'had done some good work' but added: 'The question is one of priorities and whether the work can be allocated in another way.'

But TUC policy officer Tom Mellish said:

'In construction the Latham and especially the Egan reports have emphasised respect for people, and the learning fund is one of those elements which underpins it.The industry is moving on and this would be a backward step.'