Scottish union leaders have called on the First Minister to end the “appalling proposal” to close a key trade union education centre at a Glasgow college.

The Trade Union Congress (TUC) Education Centre is housed at City of Glasgow College and is run through a partnership between the college and the TUC.

The college is seeking to cut costs by ending the partnership and closing the TUC Education Centre, which it says has been losing enrollment and running understaffed for years.

The TUC EC provides training for union representativesnationwide through a variety of courses and trainings. A college spokesperson previously told The Herald that the decision is partly based on finances – with the college projecting a £2 million deficit for 2024/25 – and partly due to a decline in demand for courses.

Read more: Glasgow college trade union education at risk of cuts

But trade unions hit out at the decision, saying that any suggestion of closing the education centre would cripple union activity in the country at a time when multiple sectors are embroiled in long-running industrial disputes, including a local dispute at City of Glasgow College.

On Monday, City of Glasgow College staff and members of the college lecturer union EIS-FELA held a picket line in solidarity with the proposed changes to the TUC EC.

Now, senior union leaders from 13 Scottish trade unions have submitted an open letter to First Minister John Swinney, calling for him to intervene and prevent the closure of the education centre.

In a joint statement, trade unionists said that they are holding the First Minister to his recent comments that “a partnership with trade unions and business will be at the core of his approach.”

The Herald: John Swinney said the Tories have been working against Holyrood for some time (Jane Barlow/PA)

In their letter, union leaders warn that closing the TUC Education Centre now will set industrial relations back at a time when more cooperation and well-trained representatives are needed.

“Sadly however, industrial relations at the college itself are very poor; the closure proposal comes after a period of prolonged industrial action over pay and job losses.

“We believe this is no coincidence and that is further evidence of the hostile approach to trade unions taken by college senior management who are using the obvious downturn in course generated income that occurred during the Covid pandemic and periods of strike action, as cover for a policy decision to close the centre.

“If the centre is allowed to close, then there will be a significant and damaging impact on the capacity to deliver trade union education in Scotland.”

Read more: EIS annual conference to discuss teachers’ concerns

The letter also rejects some of the college’s claims that the college is not receiving enough funding from the TUC partnership to support the education centre.

“Contrary to the position stated by the college, the STUC through TUC Education provides very significant funds to support the Trade Union Education Centre. This is, of course, in addition to the large sums drawn down through SFC credit funding, not to mention income from the Collective Learning Partnership.

“This leaves us in no doubt that the centre is an entirely viable operation with a strong, positive and sustainable future.  

“On becoming First Minister you said, “A partnership with trade unions and business will be at the core of my approach.”

“Now is the opportunity to turn those words into action. 

“We are therefore calling on you to work in partnership with the trade unions and the college management to lift the threat to this vital educational resource. 

“It is inconceivable that the great city of Glasgow with its proud trade union history might not have a Trade Union Education Centre to train the next generation of workers representatives.” 

A Scottish Government spokesperson said:

"The Scottish Government values trade unions in providing a strong and effective voice for Scotland’s workers, and believes a progressive approach to industrial relations is at the heart of a fairer, more successful society.

“It remains that operational decisions on pay, resourcing and course delivery in the Further Education sector are for individual colleges. Scottish Ministers have no locus to intervene.

“However, we would hope that all parties could come together to resolve this matter for the benefit of workers across Scotland.”

A City of Glasgow College spokesperson said:

“Currently, the Trade Union Congress Education Centre (TUC EC) is operating at a vastly reduced capacity because of the continued downturn in demand for trade union education.  

“Many trade unions are now seeking alternative in-house training for their lay union representatives, rather than sourcing  this training from the College. In recent years, the TUC EC has been costing the College between £150,000 to £100,000 each year to run, which is financially unviable during these very challenging financial times for the sector.  

“The proposal to not renew the contract with the TUC is subject to consultation, so no final decision has bene taken to close the TUC EC when the current Partnership Agreement with the TUC lapses at the end of this academic year. 

“All colleges in Scotland are continuing to face significant multi-year financial and funding challenges and are having to find big savings and generate additional income.

“As Scotland's largest college, we are projecting a deficit for academic year 2024/25 of almost £2 million, and we are therefore exploring every option to balance the books as we are required to do."