Musselburgh Racecourse staff bid to unseat committee chief

Staff at Musselburgh Racecourse have called for chairman of its ruling committee, John Caldwell, to quit. Picture: Greg Macvean
Staff at Musselburgh Racecourse have called for chairman of its ruling committee, John Caldwell, to quit. Picture: Greg Macvean
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DEMORALISED staff at Musselburgh Racecourse have called for the head of the chairman of its ruling committee.

Writing to the Evening News, employees paint a bleak picture of conditions at the course – quoting an independent report into “dysfunctional” leadership under Councillor John Caldwell and poor governance.

And in a dramatic turn of events, it emerged that Lothians Racing Syndicate members stormed out of a board meeting on Monday.

“A solution needs to be found to ensure that the racecourse benefits from proper strategic leadership and governance, which we firmly believe Cllr Caldwell is incapable of delivering,” reads the staff letter.

“In his most recent statements Cllr Caldwell appears oblivious to the perilous state the racecourse is now in and unwilling to accept responsibility for his shortcomings.”

But a defiant Cllr Caldwell said it was up to the council, not staff, to decide who runs the course.

Staff go on to call for leaders of East Lothian Council, which owns the buildings and fixed assets, to “take action and make the changes”.

Not-for-profit entity Musselburgh Joint Racing Committee (MJRC) runs the course – made up of Cllr Caldwell and three fellow councillors and three Lothians Racing Syndicate directors.

Sport governing body the British Horseracing Authority has only granted Musselburgh a temporary licence until it wins assurances on next year’s course budget.

Other issues at the course include a second vote of no confidence by staff in the leadership of the MJRC and the loss of Investors in People status, a nationally recognised standard.

Now the GMB union is considering balloting members at the course on strike action, with 15 full-time staff and hundreds more on race days.

Despite the problems, business is booming at the venue, which counts Ladies Day among its flagship events.

A record 70,000 punters came through the gates last year while Grand National-winning trainer Lucinda Russell and eight-time champion jockey Peter Scudamore have backed management and staff.

In their letter, staff say they only passed votes of no confidence after “very careful consideration” because of the “deeply demoralising and unsatisfactory nature” of dealings with Cllr Caldwell.

They commend management at the racecourse for leading it to numerous racing industry and business awards in recent years while boosting annual turnover to £6 million.

Both East Lothian Council and Cllr Caldwell have said an investigation is under way at the course but refused to disclose further details.

Cllr Caldwell said staff pay was on the agenda at Monday’s board meeting, only for LRS members to walk out in protest at an earlier confidential item.

A spokesman for LRS said its directors left because councillors were about to vote through an item that would “inevitably lead to staff taking industrial action.”

Cllr Caldwell added: “It’s the council who manage who’s on the committee for the council’s point of view – it’s not for the staff to decide who the management is. The council will make their minds up after the election and the board will change anyway. Obviously this is a campaign to try to undermine my prospects to get reelected. It’s totally out of order.”

Letters – Pages 20-21