By Geoffrey Riddle
The Lothians Racing Syndicate will try to resist the East Lothian Council from creating a new joint committee to run Musselburgh racecourse.
The East Lothian Council met on Tuesday behind closed doors and the elected members unanimously agreed to implement certain changes outlined in an independent review that was carried out by solicitors Pinsent Masons.
This review was undertaken with the agreement of East Lothian Council and the Lothians Racing Syndicate Ltd (LRS), which together provide membership of the Musselburgh Joint Racing Committee (MJRC) that has struggled to agree on how to best run the racecourse. The findings within the review have remained secret.
Should the council’s plans come to fruition it will result in MJRC being reconstituted as the Musselburgh Racing Associated Committee (MRAC), comprising four elected members (with cross-party representation) and two members representing racing interests. There is a currently a Minute Of Agreement between the two parties in place.
“Today’s decision by East Lothian Council has ridden roughshod over legally binding provisions contained in a Minute of Agreement concerning the management of Musselburgh Racecourse,” John Prideaux, chairman of the Lothians Racing Syndicate, said.
“This Minute of Agreement remains in force and cannot be altered without the approval of both parties of the Musselburgh Joint Racing Committee, that is East Lothian Council and the Lothians Racing Syndicate, but the Council have ignored this important fact because it does not fit with their desire to assume overall control of the racecourse.
“The racecourse staff have a contract of employment with MJRC but continue to be treated with contempt and have been told they are to become Council employees without any reference to their current employer."
Prideaux also implored the British Horsracing Authority to intervene.
“The LRS will resist any attempt to have the current Minute of Agreement rescinded and we call on the British Horseracing Authority to carefully consider if East Lothian Council’s decision is genuinely in the best interests of Musselburgh Racecourse, it’s staff and racing in Scotland,” he added.
The elected members of the East Lothian Council agreed that a report would be presented to a future meeting of the council, with recommendations assessing merits of continuing with an interim option of an associated committee, setting up or progressing with an Arm’s Length External Organisation (ALEO), or procuring a third party supplier.
At the meeting it was outlined that a new sub-committee can be formed to provide additional skills and expertise, which, according to East Lothian Council, was a recommendation by the independent governance review that stated has the advantage of ‘potentially improving stakeholder balance’. An associated committee requires the council to hold a two-thirds majority, hence the possible requirement for a change in the committee composition.
In the meantime, given the need to make changes by April 7 when the racecourse’s current licence expires with the British Horseracing Authority, the council intends to proceed with the associated committee option that the Lothians Racing Syndicate disputes.
“Musselburgh Racecourse has been a home to horseracing for more than 200 years,” Councillor Fiona O’Donnell said.
“It is a much-loved venue which we want to see continue operating successfully – in the interests of racegoers, our economy, the local community and its valued employees.
“It is clear that the current governance arrangements cannot continue. An independent governance review was undertaken as a licence requirement of the BHA and I am pleased that the council unanimously has agreed to implement the required changes.
“The council has done all it can to work constructively with the LRS and I have personally met and updated racecourse employees, who are its greatest asset, throughout this difficult process.
“I am pleased with the progress made as we look to secure Musselburgh Racecourse’s future and ensure we have a stronger governance structure comprising the right balance of skills and experience. That is what we will deliver.”
Last week the union representing staff at the course threatened industrial action if East Lothian Council proceeds with its plans to bring the track back under full council control.
In a statement the East Lothian Council added that they intend for there to be full consultation with racecourse employees to allow them to transfer on their existing terms and conditions into the employment of the council.
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