Musselburgh future in jeopardy yet again after council moves to take control
Musselburgh racecourse's future has again been thrown into serious uncertainty after a simmering civil war reached boiling point this week due to the track's local council owners declaring their intent to assume full control.
Last year relations between the council and the racing figures central to Musselburgh's governance reached what at that stage was a new low.
Now, however, the Racing Post understands East Lothian Council has laid out plans to drastically alter the way in which Musselburgh is run, with a favoured proposal that would, in effect, make the popular venue a council-managed racecourse.
It was only in July that a long game of poker finally came to an end when council leader Willie Innes bowed to BHA demands for an independent review of how Musselburgh is governed.
The council has failed to make public the findings of that Pinsent Masons review, but its own preference, which could be ratified at an ELC meeting on February 27, would lead to all Musselburgh's staff ceasing to be employees of the Musselburgh Joint Racing Committee – the body made up four council appointees and three racing members that currently runs the racecourse – and instead be placed on the ELC payroll.
While there is nothing to stop ELC taking that action, the BHA would need to be satisfied about any new governing structure if it is to extend the track's temporary licence to race, which at the moment expires two days after Musselburgh's Flat fixture on April 5.
A BHA spokesman said: "At present it is a matter for East Lothian Council and the racecourse to determine the approach that they will take to reform the governance of the racecourse. The BHA has not yet been formally informed of the direction that will be taken following the conclusion of the independent governance review.
"Once a proposal is made, the BHA will consider the proposal and assess the situation with the racecourse’s licence, which is currently in place on a temporary basis through to 7 April 2018."
On Monday, councillor Fiona O'Donnell, acting chair of the MJRC, and executive colleague Carlo Grilli visited the racecourse and informed staff of ELC's desire to bring Musselburgh and its 15 permanent staff under control.
The council's wish is thought to be for there to be a new ruling structure of four councillors and two racing representatives. However, these would not be drawn from the Lothian Racing Syndicate, which has until now provided the necessary racing expertise to the MJRC.
It is also believed that prominent racehorse owner Raymond Anderson Green and Robert Miller Bakewell have turned down the council's invitation to occupy the two 'racing' seats on the remodelled Musselburgh board.
LRS chairman John Prideaux – who revealed he had only recently discovered ELC changed the racecourse's status to an associate committee of the council five years ago – said: "Following a wholly unsatisfactory meeting on Monday, when councillor O’Donnell told the staff that they would become council employees after the February 27 council meeting, the staff are completely demoralised.
"If ELC continues with this ill-thought out plan it will almost certainly end in court action.
"In addition, the council’s proposals are most unlikely to persuade the British Horseracing Authority to extend the current temporary licence, which allows the racecourse to hold race meetings. The racecourse would then be in danger of permanent closure."
An ELC spokesperson 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 councillor O’Donnell has been keeping the racecourse’s valued employees informed during this process."
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