Councillors take control of crisis-hit Musselburgh Racecourse

Musselburgh Racecourse, Picture: Johnson PressMusselburgh Racecourse, Picture: Johnson Press
Musselburgh Racecourse, Picture: Johnson Press

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COUNCILLORS have seized control of crisis-hit Musselburgh Racecourse after a unanimous vote today behind closed doors.

East Lothian members said today’s power grab was to protect the venue and saw them act on an independent review.

But partners Lothians Racing Syndicate accused the authority of “riding roughshod over legally binding provisions.”

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The move will see the Musselburgh Joint Racing Committee scrapped after running the course for 15 years.

Musselburgh has been operating on a temporary licence from sport governing body the British Horseracing Association over governance concerns.

Councillor Fiona O’Donnell, acting chairperson of the MJRC, who is expected to continue in that role under the new set up, said current governance arrangements cannot continue.

Musselburgh Racecourse has been a home to horseracing for more than 200 years,” said Cllr O’Donnell.

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Council accused of trying to seize control of Musselburgh Racecourse

“It is a much-loved venue which we want to see continue operating successfully – in the interests of racegoers, our economy, the local community and its valued employees.

“An independent governance review was undertaken as a licence requirement of the BHA and I am pleased that the council unanimously has agreed to implement the required changes.

“The council has done all it can to work constructively with the LRS and I have personally met and updated racecourse employees, who are its greatest asset, throughout this difficult process.

“I am pleased with the progress made as we look to secure Musselburgh Racecourse’s future and ensure we have a stronger governance structure comprising the right balance of skills and experience. That is what we will deliver.”

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The racecourse was subject to a power struggle last year between LRS and East Lothian Council - culminating in former MJRC chair John Caldwell losing his council seat at last year’s elections.

The MRJC will be abolished and replaced with a new Musselburgh Racecourse Associated Committee - made up of four elected councillors from various parties, and two racing experts.

The previous MJRC committee had four elected councillors and three representatives from Lothians Racing Syndicate (LRS), which has jointly operated the course.

Uncertainty surrounds whether LRS members will take up the two expert spaces on the new committee but the organisation has reacted with fury at the council’s decision.

Staff at the racecourse have been told they will become council employees and moves are underway to transfer them with their current terms and conditions.

The racecourse’s current temporary BHA licence expires in April, conditional on an independent review carried out by solicitors Pinsent Masons, findings of which are yet to be made public.

John Prideaux, chairman of the Lothians Racing Syndicate, said: “Today’s decision by East Lothian Council has ridden roughshod over legally binding provisions contained in a Minute of Agreement concerning the management of Musselburgh Racecourse.

“This Minute of Agreement remains in force and cannot be altered without the approval of both parties of the Musselburgh Joint Racing Committee, that is East Lothian Council and the Lothians Racing Syndicate, but the council have ignored this important fact because it does not fit with their desire to assume overall control of the racecourse.

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“The racecourse staff have a contract of employment with MJRC but continue to be treated with contempt and have been told they are to become council employees without any reference to their current employer.

“The LRS will resist any attempt to have the current Minute of Agreement rescinded and we call on the British Horseracing Authority to carefully consider if East Lothian Council’s decision is genuinely in the best interests of Musselburgh Racecourse, its staff and racing in Scotland.”

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