Council accused of trying to seize control of Musselburgh Racecourse

Musselburgh Racecourse, Picture: Johnson Press
Musselburgh Racecourse, Picture: Johnson Press
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ATTEMPTS by a council to sezie control of Musselburgh Racecourse could “almost certainly end in court action”, the head of the region’s racing syndicate has warned.

East Lothian Council is attempting to bring the venue under its control - a move labelled “illegitimate” when it was first tabled in 2013.

The attempt to bring the racecourse under the authority of the council could be decided at a meeting on February 27, and staff have been told they could become council employees if the proposals are approved.

It is believed the venue could either be made an associate committee of the council, an external organisation, or the running of the racecourse be put out to the highest bidder.

John Prideaux, chairman of the Lothians Racing Syndicate (LRS), which jointly run the racecourse through the Musselburgh Joint Racing Committee (MJRC), believes the racecourse staff have become “completely demoralised” by the plans.

READ MORE: Musselburgh Racecourse workers ‘fearing for livelihoods’

He said: “East Lothian Council’s actions when they changed the status of the racecourse to an associated committee in 2013 were illegitimate and they now appear to be papering over the cracks with this attempt to assume total control of the racecourse.

“The Lothians Racing Syndicate were never informed of this change of status, which is a breach of the existing minute of agreement and indeed, we only found out through the recent Pinsent Masons report into the governance of the racecourse.”

He added: “In typically high-handed manner, we have not been consulted about the council’s plans to push this through at next week’s full council meeting and we do not believe this is in the best interests of the racecourse or the staff who put their all in to making the racecourse such success.”

It is believed that sources are concerned the council wishes to wrestle control of the racecourse from the Musselburgh Joint Racing Committee (MJRC) and that staff views are not being listened to.

Musselburgh Racecourse declined to comment.

Mr Prideaux added: “The staff are completely demoralised, and it has to be asked, what legal right do ELC have to tear up their current contracts with the Musselburgh Joint Racing Committee and decree they will now become council employees?

“If ELC continue with this ill-thought out plan it will almost certainly end in court action which will be costly to the tax payer at a time when local services and budgets are under severe strain.

“We would appeal to councillors of all political parties, that if they really want the best outcome for the racecourse and to ensure it thrives and continues to be an asset to East Lothian, that they resist this shambolic move and work together to ensure the racecourse is afforded a sustainable long-term framework which benefits all stakeholders.”

The British Horseracing Authority’s current licence at Musselburgh expires in April.

A spokesperson said: “The British Horseracing Authority has not yet been informed of the direction that will be taken following the conclusion of the governance review.”

A spokesperson for East Lothian Council, said: “Pinsent Masons carried out an independent review which presented a number of options for the future governance of the racecourse and these are under consideration.

“The council is keen to expedite matters while working constructively with the LRS, and Cllr O’Donnell, has been keeping the racecourse’s valued employees informed during this process.”