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Wednesday, 23 January, 2019

Musselburgh insiders claim civil war has put track in jeopardy

Musselburgh insiders claim the track is "heading towards disaster"
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Senior figures at Musselburgh have claimed the racecourse is "heading towards disaster" over a governance crisis.

The situation is now sufficiently serious for the BHA to have restricted the popular venue to a temporary licence that expires at the end of June.

A little more than a week after One For Arthur captured the Grand National for Scotland, the mood of positivity among the nation's racing community is set to be shaken by the protracted and damaging civil war being fought between the two sides responsible for the local authority-owned Musselburgh.

Although it is understood the BHA is confident the situation will be resolved, should it choose not to extend the temporary licence racing would be halted from the end of June.

In its previous guise as Great Leighs, Chelmsford racecourse was, in effect, forced to close in January 2009 when the BHA refused to roll on the temporary licence that had been in place to that point.

According to the Lothian Racing Syndicate, whose figures include Musselburgh chief executive Bill Farnsworth and LRS chairman John Prideaux, the Edinburgh track has been beset by "a catastrophic lack of strategic direction and leadership", the accused party being the racecourse directors appointed by East Lothian Council.

The most senior of those directors, councillor John Caldwell, hit back at Prideaux's attack, calling it "vindictive".

Although the LRS – the company created in 1890 to manage the then privately owned Musselburgh – has three members on the Musselburgh Joint Racing Committee that controls the track, four places are given to representatives of the Labour-led council, whose appointed chairman, independent councillor Caldwell, has reportedly been the subject of no confidence votes from the racecourse staff.

The LRS directors have also twice informed council leader Willie Innes they have no confidence in Caldwell's leadership.

Cullingworth and Sammy Jo Bell land the Royal Mile at Musselburgh on Saturday

With local elections looming on May 4, the LRS's lifting of the lid has been timed with a view to putting pressure on Caldwell – who is seeking re-election – and the council, while the motive has been described as a "last-ditch effort to protect the future of the racecourse and racing at Musselburgh".

Among the LRS allegations are that up to £100,000 in legal fees has been wasted by the MJRC, including money spent on a report into staff grievances that was ultimately ignored.

Staff morale is reported to be low and reportedly evidenced by the removal of the racecourses's Investors In People status and threats of industrial action.

Prideaux said: "Councillor Caldwell has been supported by Labour councillors in his role as chairman of the MJRC despite the council’s leader and chief executive being warned repeatedly that under his chairmanship the course is heading towards disaster.

'Discussion has been suppressed'

"Two independent reports that are damning of Councillor Caldwell’s leadership of the MJRC have been shelved and any meaningful discussion of them has been suppressed.

"The councillor members of the MJRC have a built-in four-three majority, and have abused – in our view – that position to prevent any serious discussion and debate.

"The input of the Lothian Racing Syndicate members and racecourse management is being ignored, and there is a chronic lack of direction and strategic planning.

"This has had a massive and detrimental impact on the day-to-day management of the racecourse, with staff morale at a very low point. Our hard-working staff have felt it necessary to have lodged grievances, and two votes of no confidence in the MJRC leadership have been passed by staff."

The Queen was a visitor to Musselburgh last year

Prideaux, who last year was one of those who welcomed the Queen to Musselburgh as part of its 200th anniversary celebrations, added: "Potentially most damaging of all, the course is in the unprecedented position of operating on a temporary licence to hold racing at Musselburgh.

"The British Horseracing Authority – which grants the licence – has withheld the granting of a full licence until it is satisfied that the financial budgeting and governance at Musselburgh is appropriate and proper.

"Under councillor Caldwell’s leadership there continues to be no appropriate budgeting work carried out. Without a BHA licence, no horseracing can take place at Musselburgh."

East Lothian Council said on Wednesday it will "continue to work closely with the Musselburgh Joint Racing Committee to promote and position the racecourse as one of the country’s top attractions".

Its statement continued: "Whilst the council is aware of some concerns expressed by the Lothian Racing Syndicate, an investigation by the MJRC, under the chairmanship of councillor John Caldwell, into these concerns is currently ongoing and it would be inappropriate to comment further until the investigation is concluded."

Dream Flyer and Brian Harding soar over a Musselburgh fence in January

Caldwell insisted blame for Musselburgh's perilous position is down to the track's racing wing, and claimed the LRS is attempting to prevent him making inquiries on behalf of the MJRC.

"The LRS members won't accept decisions unless they have put them forward or they're in their favour," said Caldwell.

"The councillors are always deemed to be wrong. The reports that are being referred to are old news and there is other information that says the opposite.

"They are trying to suppress an investigation that is taking place at the moment and they have put the racecourse in jeopardy by doing this."

Caldwell added: "There is a local election coming up in a couple of weeks' time. This is a way of them trying to get me out. They are trying to jeopardise my chances in the election, which is totally out of order. It's vindictive, it's harassing and it's pathetic. The problem won't go away if they get rid of me."

BHA spokesman Robin Mounsey said: "While we cannot comment on the specifics of an individual racecourse licence application, more generally we can confirm that, from time to time, the BHA does attach conditions to the renewal of a racecourse licence to ensure any issues it identifies as needing to be addressed are resolved satisfactorily and in a timely manner."

This has had a massive and detrimental impact on the day-to-day management of the racecourse, with staff morale at a very low point
E.W. Terms
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