MUSSELBURGH Racecourse is heading into limbo as the result of a damaging civil war between racing professionals and local councillors on the committee that runs the popular track.
It emerged yesterday that the sport’s UK governing body the British Horseracing Authority has given the course a licence only until the end of June because of concerns over governance and budgeting.
The National can reveal that at least two investigations – one of them still ongoing – have been carried out into allegations made against members of the Musselburgh Joint Racing Committee (MJRC) which oversees the executives who manage the course.
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Chaired by local independent councillor John Caldwell, the Committee consists of Caldwell and three Labour councillors plus three members of the Lothian Racing Syndicate (LRS) who are all racing professionals.
LRS chairman John Prideaux, former RAF Group Captain who is now a racing steward, sparked the latest controversy with a strongly worded attack on the “catastrophic lack of strategic direction and leadership” shown by the council contingent who get their seats because the racecourse is on Common Good land.
The GMB trade union which represents the racecourse staff has expressed “no confidence” in Cllr Caldwell for the second time and has threatened strike action on Ladies Day, the course’s hugely popular and lucrative meeting set for June 17. The current investigation by the MJRC was initiated by Cllr Caldwell and is believed to focus on financial and governance issues. East Lothian Council confirmed the investigation is “currently ongoing” and would make no further comment. The National can reveal that the first inquiry carried out more than two years ago by an independent solicitor resulted in a 60-page report that cost the racecourse more than £20,000.
It contained damning criticisms of the MJRC’s governance and recommended that Councillor Caldwell stand down. No action was taken on the report and Cllr Caldwell confirmed to The National last night that it was not acted upon.
Prideaux said yesterday: “Financial matters regarding both budgets and staff have not been handled in a timely way. The course is common land, but they own the buildings and stables and we pay a commercial rent of £120,000 a year – we deserve better.
“At the moment, getting these issues sorted so that the BHA is happy is not even close, and I’m worried that their people will run out of patience with us. Closure can’t be ruled out”
Cllr Caldwell told The National that the LRS members wanted rid of him to forestall the current investigation. He said: “They think that if they get rid of me the investigation will go away. They are trying all ways to scupper it, but I’m not going to give in.”