1.The purpose of these draft Regulations is to ensure that current access rights for EU bus and coach operators into, and within, Northern Ireland remain in place after the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. In view of the potential impact of the proposals on cross-border bus and coach services in Northern Ireland, Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee Sub-Committee B recommended an upgrade of the Regulations to the affirmative procedure when they were initially laid as a proposed negative instrument. The recommendation has been accepted. The Department for Infrastructure in Northern Ireland (DfI) explains that as reciprocal rights for UK operators in the EU market cannot be guaranteed after EU exit, the UK will join the Interbus Agreement (“Interbus”) as a contracting party in its own right if it leaves the EU without an agreement. While Interbus does not currently cover “regular” (scheduled) and “special regular” international coach services (for example, services that take specific passengers to school or work), the EU has agreed temporary contingency measures to enable operators licensed by the UK to carry passengers between the UK and an EU Member State if the withdrawal agreement is not adopted before the UK leaves the EU. This will enable existing “regular” and “special regular” services delivered by UK operators in the EU to continue until 31 December 2019. Interbus also does not cover cabotage services (the operation of domestic journeys in one contracting party by an operator based in another), but the EU agreement will allow UK operators limited cabotage operations in the border regions of Ireland until 30 September 2019. DfI explains that, with regard to more permanent arrangements, the scope of Interbus is in the process of being extended to cover “regular” and “special regular” services. If this extension is not agreed, DfI will “look to negotiate an extension with the EU or seek to put in place bilateral arrangements with specific countries to secure the access needed to keep UK passenger transport operators moving” and that, with regard to cabotage, it “will continue to work … with the European Commission and the Republic of Ireland to ensure that any future UK-EU transport arrangements take into account the unique transport demands on the island of Ireland”.
2.This instrument increases the rates that the NHS pays to care homes to cover the costs of services that must be carried out by a registered nurse (“the FNC rate”). Accommodation and social care costs are the responsibility of either the local authority and/or the individual (subject to the outcome of a needs assessment and financial assessment). The 4.7% increase this year is influenced by the outcome of a Supreme Court case on the Welsh FNC rate and by a subsequent review by LaingBuisson (further information on these are included in Appendix 1 of this Report). We note that the rate set includes a 3.1% “efficiency expectation” of nursing home providers and, given recent reports in the press about financial instability in the care home sector, we wonder how realistic that assumption is. Because these changes will take effect on 26 April 2019, rather than 1 April as is usual, the Department for Health and Social Care published a statement on 5 April which said:
“The findings of the study were delayed, following requests to improve the robustness of the data collected and an increase to the sample size of surveyed nursing homes. With an overall budget of approximately £675m for NHS-funded Nursing Care in 2018-19, any changes to the NHS-funded Nursing Care rates have significant financial consequences for both the NHS and nursing home providers.”
1 Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee (Sub-Committee B), , Session 2017-19 (HL Paper 327).
2 Interbus is a multilateral treaty between the EU, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, North Macedonia, Montenegro, Republic of Moldova, Turkey and Ukraine that allows for “occasional” international coach travel, such as coach holidays and tours, between the contracting parties.