Council accused of acting illegally in Musselburgh power struggle
East Lothian Council's decision to take firmer control of the running of Musselburgh racecourse appears to be heading to the courts with the racing figures central to its day-to-day management intent on continuing in their role.
On Tuesday the council announced it was replacing the Musselburgh Joint Racing Committee [MJRC] – made up of four councillors and three members of the Lothian Racing Syndicate [LRS] – with a six-member Musselburgh Racing Associated Committee [MRAC], which would have only two representing racing interests.
The council said it was following the recommendations of the independent governance review, demanded by the BHA before it granted a temporary licence which is in place until April, and would secure the track's future. All MJRC employees would be transferred to the council payroll.
But LRS chairman John Prideaux on Wednesday warned the council it would need court authority to carry out its plans, which he indicated would be strongly resisted.
In a letter to Fiona O'Donnell, the acting chair of the MJRC, Prideaux said: "Should you conduct the business of the racecourse in such a manner, you will be acting illegally in that you will be breaching the Minute of Agreement [MoA] between ELC and the LRS, which has been in its current form since 1994 and is still the legal document regulating how the racecourse is to conduct its business.
"This agreement cannot be changed without the agreement of both parties and, should ELC wish to have the MoA annulled, it would have to do so by raising an action of reduction available in both the Sheriff Court and the Court of Session.
"Such action, which will be resisted by the LRS, has not yet occurred and, until annulled, the MoA continues to determine how the racecourse should be governed.
"The MJRC is the committee which meets the MoA’s requirements, not the new committee which ELC has now formed. Consequently, contrary to the outcome of your private proposals of yesterday, the LRS will continue to perform its role in the governance of Musselburgh racecourse in accordance with the MoA."
Prideaux expressed disappointment that the council had yet to formally let the LRS know of the decisions it has taken and the LRS was still awaiting answers to a number of questions.
He proposed any meeting to discuss the track's future governance should be chaired by an independent mediator, such as a member of the Scottish government.
As a result of the change, all MJRC employees are to be transferred to the council payroll, which the GMB union warned could result in industrial action.
Prideaux told O'Donnell: "You shouldn’t underestimate the distress inflicted on the racecourse staff and the dismay in the wider racing community following ELC’s actions yesterday."
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