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Wednesday, 16 January, 2019

Strike threat is repeated as Musselburgh staff call for third party to run track

House Edge and Paul Mulrennan win at Musselburgh in September
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Musselburgh chief executive Bill Farnsworth fears the track could be left "at the bottom of the racecourse heap" if East Lothian Council carries out its intention to take over the running of a venue whose staff remain minded to take industrial action.

In the week in which Musselburgh will be the principal site on ITV4's Saturday racing coverage thanks to the £100,000 Totepool Queen's Cup, there continues to be a massive uncertainty about its immediate and long-term future, with the BHA yet to announce if it will extend the racecourse's licence to stage fixtures beyond April 7.

As an interim measure, pending a full council meeting on April 27, ELC has announced that Musselburgh's 15 full-time staff will become council employees from April 7. 

That is also the point when the current governance by the Musselburgh Joint Racing Committee is to cease and be replaced by a new council-led associated committee, in which racing's minority representation will fall from three members to two.

Musselburgh is set to become a council-run racecourse based on plans laid out by East Lothian Council
At a meeting between two senior council figures and racecourse staff last Friday, Musselburgh's employees urged ELC to put out a tender for an outside third party – such as the Jockey Club or Arc – to run the business, with the council thereafter acting solely as landlord.

Farnsworth said: "The position of the staff is if Musselburgh becomes a council-run racecourse when better alternatives are available, and we therefore all become council employees, the staff would ask the GMB trade union to ballot everyone for strike action.

"The reason the staff would do this is they believe that if the racecourse becomes part of the council Musselburgh would go into decline and so would our careers.

"The way a local authority is run is very different to how a private business is run. It's also the case that the catalyst for the recent governance review was the problems linked to a 4:3 structure. How would replacing that with a 4:2 structure work?"

Bill Farnsworth wants a third party to take over governance of the track
Farnsworth added: "Our ambition is to stage five £100,000 races. Sooner or later a future council is going to ask why, when it can't afford to maintain services, is the council-owned racecourse running £100,000 races for rich owners?

"We have confidence the current councillors wouldn't do that. However, a future council might, as the current council obviously cannot give future protection.

"It has taken us 25 years to build Musselburgh to what it is today. All that good work could very quickly be taken away with Musselburgh left at the bottom of the racecourse heap."

The Queen's Cup is the highlight of Saturday's ITV4-televised Musselburgh card
An ELC spokesperson said: "The council is determined to make the required changes and secure the future of Musselburgh racecourse.

"We have noted the preference of racecourse employees for a third party being procured to run the racecourse. Elected members have unanimously agreed that a report will be presented to a future meeting of the council, with recommendations assessing the merits of continuing with the interim option of a new associated committee, setting up or progressing with an arm's length external organisation or procuring a third party supplier.

"In the meantime, the racecourse’s current temporary licence expires in April, which means we need to make progress with implementation of recommendations from the independent governance review – which is expected by the British Horseracing Authority."

The spokesperson added: "There is recognition the status quo cannot continue. Members have agreed to progress the review’s option of forming the new/compliant associated committee – initially on an interim basis – to oversee the racecourse’s governance.

"We will continue to work with and communicate with employees, who are Musselburgh racecourse’s greatest asset."

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A future council is going to ask why, when it can't afford to maintain services, is the council-owned racecourse running £100,000 races?

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