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Evaluation of the Scottish union learning fund— Year one (2000-2001)


Evaluation of the Scottish Union Learning Fund - Year 1 (2000-2001)

Chapter six: capacity building, partnership and sustainability


6.1 Capacity building, partnership and sustainability are all key objectives of SULF. The extent to which the fund has built union capacity within Scotland and the extent to which it is sustainable are fundamental to the success of the Fund. These issues are explored in turn in this chapter.

Capacity building

6.2 The extent to which SULF has added to the capacity of the unions is difficult to quantify at this stage, however there is evidence of an increased capacity in the unions to promote and deliver lifelong learning to members. This evidence was principally gathered through the case study visits.

Through Developing Structures

6.3 The major achievement in terms of developing capacity was in the training of 196 learning representatives. The learning representatives act within the workplace to promote lifelong learning and in some cases have the ability to negotiate with providers to deliver courses. The learning representatives (LRs) are in place, however it is now essential to ensure that LRs are supported in their work and recognised. It became apparent during the case studies that LRs were often not getting appropriate support from employers or getting release to fulfil their duties. In some cases the employers did not have a clear understanding of the role of the LRs and there were instances where the employer was supportive at the top management level but commitment had not been secured at middle management level. In one of the projects a steering group was established to oversee the project and to create synergy in the promotion and delivery of lifelong learning in the industry. The steering group included representation from the employers, 3 unions, and SUfI. Other unions can learn from this positive example and develop their own structures for more cohesive working in the future.

6.4 It is to be hoped that statutory recognition will provide release for the LRs to fulfil their duties and unions need to work more proactively with employers to make clear the LRs role and gain commitment from the employers to support the LRs in their role. The LRs have a huge amount of potential to engage learners, but to date they have not received the support to fulfil their role. There is a risk of lost momentum and many LRs are currently disheartened as they are on the whole unsupported and unable to fulfil their role.

Through Developing Learning Centres/Materials

6.5 The development of learning centres and support to use these centres linked to the ASLEF led and AEEU led projects has built capacity in terms of the unions delivering learning directly to its members. The rail learning centre was developed with support from SUfI and is available for all rail unions' members (ASLEF, RMT and TSSA). However, the extent to which unions can resource and sustain direct delivery of learning services is mixed and depends upon the resource and remit of the union. Continued emphasis needs to be placed on planning to ensure that services can be sustained and further developed to meet the needs of the membership.

6.6 The development of union specific materials and courses help the union to develop the capacity to deliver learning. SULF funded 2 projects that focused on developing online learning materials for members of their unions - the SCP and EIS projects. These innovative projects enable members to participate in online learning courses at a time and place convenient to the members.

Through Project Management Experience

6.7 SULF has enabled unions to participate in projects in Scotland to promote and deliver lifelong learning. In the absence of SULF this activity was unlikely to have taken place and thus SULF has created scope for the unions to deliver lifelong learning projects and to gain credibility in this field. SULF has enabled unions to gain experience of managing projects in Scotland and entering the lifelong learning arena. As one project manager commented "the project raised the profile of training and learning within the union agenda". In addition, at least two projects included multi-union involvement working with further and higher education.

Impact of sulf on the unions

6.8 A section of the project questionnaires asked a series of questions on the impact of SULF on the unions. Projects were asked at what levels within the union the project managers had disseminated information about the project and the issues it raises for lifelong learning. Table 6.1 presents the responses to this question.

Table 6.1 Dissemination of SULF projects within the Union

Level of Dissemination

Number of projects

To branch or regional union colleagues


National education & training committee or equivalent


National executive


At national conference




6.9 The responses under "Other" included chapel, branch and workplace.

6.10 The second question in this section asked project managers to provide details on the impact the project had on the union's ability to support members' lifelong learning. Table 6.2 quotes some of the responses.

Table 6.2 Impact of the SULF projects on the unions

"Where learning reps have been trained there has been an increase in understanding and support for the issues amongst workplace activists. The project has also raised awareness and generated active support amongst full time officials of the union".

"Very significant - proves that trade union can be CPD provider at a very high level"

"The major impact has been through the development of effective partnerships with employers/training providers and continuing those partnerships as funding/development vehicles to users".

"The project was based on our experiences from ULF in England using a similar model in Scotland has enabled us to share information 'across borders'".

"The union has funded a project worker for a year to maintain the virtual learning centre".

"The union has seconded one member of staff to work full-time on ULF projects. It is the first initiative directed towards individual members learning. Previously training has focused on representative training".

"The union is only just beginning to realise importance of in service training/lifelong learning".

"Funding helped provide an additional member of staff plus increase in admin assistance. Raised the union's profile with some employers previously anti-union. Helped recruitment and retention. Courses can be adapted to improve skills countrywide".

" Tremendous impact. Benefits recognised at all levels. LRs training integrated into core education programme. Formal union policy developed. Voluntary agreement re LRs, Learning centres etc developed. Ongoing take up by members of learning, ongoing support provided".

6.11 In addition, project managers were asked to describe the impact of the project in relation to the union's overall development. Table 6.3 presents some of the responses.

Table 6.3 Impact of SULF on the unions overall development

"Too soon to evaluate - as a small union education/training fights its corner within the union to develop and maintain these services to members. There is evidence that the SULF support is penetrating the "grass roots" and raising awareness and participation".

"The unions capacity to deliver lifelong learning opportunities was based around our own trade union and technical training courses prior to the start of our Scottish ULF project. Our capacity to deliver new opportunities has increased significantly".

"The development of the virtual learning centre and the availability of on-line learning, has forced the union to reconsider its communication strategy. The union is considering establishing a 'virtual' branch for learners who are unable to access geographic centres".

"Union Learning Fund projects now form a central part of the union's educational programme".

"Significantly raised the profile of training in the union".

"Union introduced a new Professional Training Committee to promote and develop lifelong learning. Increased recruitment allowed us to improve staffing levels in the union offices. Training project also aided a number of recognition claims".

" Increased understanding of LL and established it as part of our core business. Greater recognition within the union of the potential for organisation, recruitment and partnership working through learning at work. Raised the profile and gained UNISON reputation of "learning union" with membership"

6.12 The evaluation has found some evidence of impacts; however there is no systematic measure. True impacts will take longer than a year to be realised.

Partnership development

6.13 It is likely that partners will be an ultimate source of funding and sustainability of the projects. Employers or key partners are likely to provide or have access to post SULF funding in order to sustain activities and thus effective partnership development and working is crucial.

6.14 A range of partners have been involved in the round one projects including:

  • colleges
  • employers
  • SUfI
  • NTOs (SSCs)
  • other unions.

6.15 The case study visits and employer survey highlighted examples of good and poor partnership working within the projects.

6.16 Examples of good partnership working included:

  • all partners on a steering group that met monthly to discuss issues and the progression of the project
  • partners, such as providers and NTOs involved in the bid writing process and effectively having some ownership of the bid and thus commitment to the project's delivery.

In one case study, the employer commented "the union and the employer had the same aim and same remit and so singing to the same tune". A further example included an employers' organisation mailing its members about a SULF project.

6.17 Poor partnership working was identified in the employer survey, where employers had signed up to the project and wanted to be involved but had heard very little from the union. The union did not consult the partners and the partners felt that they were " just a name on a piece of paper". Another example was the training of LRs in a workplace before engaging with the employer and thus not working in partnership with the employer to deliver the project.


6.18 SULF is intended to assist effective sustainable activity by trade unions and their partners to encourage learning in its widest sense. Its aim is to fund developmental projects that become sustainable in the long term without direct funding from SULF. The SULF Year One projects are in their infancy and whilst many of the projects have sought a second year of funding from SULF there are some indicators to suggest the projects could become sustainable in the long term.

6.19 These indicators include the extent:

  • to which SULF projects are drawing in other sources of funding
  • to which the projects have gained support from employers
  • to which structures have been developed
  • to which the projects have developed good partnership working.

6.20 Each of these indicators will be explored in turn. Project managers were asked if the project had continued and the sources of funding for the continuation. Table 6.4 presents the responses. The questionnaire returns indicate a total of 9 of the Year one projects have continued.

Table 6.4 SULF projects continuation

"Learning Reps in Scotland - Currently working on developing a new bid to further develop the network of learning reps in Scotland. Development of resources/briefings and networking between the learning reps in Scotland is ongoing."

"Diploma in workplace organisation Scottish Enterprise/Scottish Executive Education Department (funded)

Certificate in workplace organisation (starting summer 2002)

Learning reps course (self funded)"

"SULF sustaining activity"

"We are currently rolling out the model at Rosyth to AMICUS members throughout Scotland as part of SULF2".

"Provided impetus for voluntary agreements with other employers (funded by them) and further SULF funded projects".

"Internet funding. Sale of CD-ROM"

"Project now into SULF 2 and collaborating closely with SUFI project. Future activity will involve new partner companies and unions"

"The union continues to employ the member of staff taken on at the outset of SULF and upgraded part-time secretary to full time".

"IT training will be offered as part of core union programme. Additional courses are being discussed with the TUC. Lifelong Learning Adviser courses are offered as part of the core union training programme, funded by the unions".

6.21 Generally activity is continuing, but alternative sources of funding for the SULF projects are an area that needs further exploration, as most of the projects have not managed to secure mainstream funding to continue activities.

Levered in Funding

6.22 8 of the projects levered in a total of 108,399 from other sources. The largest source of levered in funding was under the category "union" - total union contributions amounted to 50,220 and total employer contributions were 25,500. The two Unison projects levered in 27,220 from the union. Unions levered in a fifth of the total SULF in additional funds.

Chart 6.1 Percentages of funding levered in by each of the different groups

chart 6.1

6.23 In addition to the actual levered in funds, one project levered in an estimated 36,000 of "in kind" support. The total amount of levered in funds and the number of projects that levered in funds in Year One is encouraging and a sign of potential sustainability in the future. However, in order to make any firm conclusions an analysis of the sources and amounts of funds "levered in" in Year Two would be required.

Employer Support

6.24 Employer commitment helps to ensure sustainability. If the project managers do not have the support of employers (where it is required) the probability of the project sustaining is significantly reduced. In addition, employers are a potential source of future funding to sustain the project. The questionnaire returns detail the status of employers, in particular whether agreements were in place between the employers and the unions and the status of the agreements - this is presented in Table 6.5.

Table 6.5 Employer involvement in SULF projects

Number of SULF projects reporting activity


Number of employers

Number of SULF projects indicating direct involvement of employers


Number of employers involved - all SULF projects 10


Number of employers actively involved 11


Number of employers partially involved 12


Agreements in place before the SULF projects began


Agreements developed with employers as a result of SULF


No agreements currently in place but hope to develop


6.25 The key points to note from table 6.5 are:

  • out of a total 68 employers, 31 were actively involved in projects
  • a direct result of 4 of the SULF projects was the development of agreements with employers
  • a further 8 SULF round one projects have no agreements currently in place, but hope to develop agreements in the future.

6.26 The SULF projects are progressing towards implementing agreements with employers, which will contribute towards ensuring the sustainability of the projects.


6.27 Developing structures can help ensure the sustainability of a project. One such structure is the development of a LR network that has the capacity to continue promoting lifelong learning to members. Where LRs have well developed relationships with providers and have the confidence to set up courses the capacity of the union to deliver lifelong learning is further enhanced. SULF funded 4 projects (ASLEF led, MSF, T&G, Unison) that focused on the training of LRs and developing a network of LRs. A further 2 projects trained LRs as an additional activity.

6.28 There are also examples of structural changes within unions to manage activities, one example is the EIS project.

EIS has traditional working structures. The team of EIS staff that were engaged with the SULF project have developed new working relationships and practices to deal with the management of SULF. The staff involved feels that SULF has contributed to a change in the working practices of the union.

Partnership Working

6.29 There were examples of good partnership working, for example the ASLEF led project had a steering group, which included wider representation from employers, SUfI, and the unions (ASLEF, TSSA, RMT). The steering group and partners all worked together to deliver the project. EIS and a team at University of Paisley formed a management group that met monthly to discuss issues in the delivery of the project.

6.30 Where good partnership working has been developed there is greater scope for the project to become sustainable in the long term. Where employers were not engaged, some LRs were unable to fulfil their duties and there is a significant risk of the LRs losing interest and the structure not being sustainable.

Other Views on Sustainability

6.31 During the consultations, stakeholders were asked their views on the sustainability of SULF and of projects that are funded by SULF. The views of the stakeholders are presented as quotes in Table 6.6.

Table 6.6 Stakeholder views on Sustainability

"No sustainability has been built into the projects, there is potential for Scottish Enterprise and LECs to provide further funding but they too are struggling for funds".

"Problem with the Fund is that the projects become dependent on it. In an ideal world the Fund should be to develop projects which have the potential for replication, however if the Scottish Executive is serious about union work they should be funding LECs to potentially take the projects forward".

"SULF supports activities until they become mainstream at which point sustainable".

"There needs to be more work on getting the unions and the LECs together and working together".

6.32 The general view was that the majority of the projects would require mainstream funding to become sustainable. Unions are unlikely to have the resources to continue the project without funding. The Scottish Enterprise network spends a considerable amount of public money on skills development in the workplace and is, therefore, a potential source of mainstream funding. However, the issue of their resources and engaging them in partnership working with the unions will be a key challenge going forward.

Key Points

  • There is evidence of increased capacity in the unions, the evidence includes:
    • 196 LRs trained
    • Learning centres developed.
    • Project management experience gained through SULF
  • There were also examples of good partnership working, for example with SUfI and employers. In one particular example, a steering group consisted of employers, SUfI and the unions. All members contributed to the development of the project.
  • In terms of sustainability, SULF activity is generally continuing - mainly through SULF Year two. Alternative sources of funding need to be identified for the funding of SULF projects in the future
  • An additional 108,399 was levered in by the round one projects.