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Jobs under threat over licence

Musselburgh racing row threat to meeting

New Year’s Day meeting is one of Musselburgh’s popular attractions (photo by Terry Murden)

A dispute involving Musselburgh Racecourse and the horse racing regulator shows no sign of easing and is threatening the future of the course.

Next week’s meeting looks likely to be cancelled with the subsequent loss of income because East Lothian Council has failed to meet requirements for its licence from the British Horseracing Authority (BHA).

Hundreds of jobs and the reputation of the course is at stake as a result of the stand-off.

The racecourse’s latest three month temporary licence expired last week after the board which runs the track, Musselburgh Joint Racing Committee, failed to give undertakings to the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) to hold a governance review. 

The BHA have issued a deadline of this Thursday for MJRC to meet that condition and to apply for a new licence which would enable Musselburgh to stage its next scheduled fixture on Friday 14 July. 

Councillor Willie Innes is one of four East Lothian Councillors who hold control of MJRC and is chairman of the racecourse.

He said he would convene a meeting next Tuesday to consider the BHA requirement but this delay will almost certainly result in Musselburgh losing the 14 July race night as the BHA has made clear. 

The East Lothian course employs 15 full time staff and up to 250 support staff would have been expected to be on duty at the next race meeting. Local pubs, hotels, restaurants, taxi and coach firms will also lose out from the significant trade the racecourse generates before and after each meeting. 

John Prideaux, one of three Lothians Racing Syndicate members on the seven strong MJRC, said: “By delaying this meeting to next week Councillor Innes is as good as saying Musselburgh won’t race on 14 July and he fails to grasp that this will cause immense damage to the racecourse.

“He is playing with people’s livelihoods, many who will be out of pocket if this fixture does not go ahead, not to mention damaging a local economy which needs all the help it can get.

“This is an appalling state of affairs brought on solely by the intransigence of Councillor Innes and his colleagues who have refused to engage with the BHA regarding their concerns about how the racecourse is governed.

“The BHA first raised concerns in December and it took MJRC three months to arrange a meeting with the BHA at which one of the councillors didn’t even bother to attend. This didn’t suddenly flare up last week and this head-in-the-sand approach led to the BHA finally losing patience and not renewing our licence to race.

“Councillor Innes must put the welfare of those employed by Musselburgh Racecourse and local businesses first and resolve this situation immediately. This is not only damaging to Musselburgh Racecourse but it has a wider impact on the reputation of Scottish Racing and the many people employed in horseracing throughout the country.”

Daily Business Comment: This is a sorry state of affairs for a course which only last weekend was being hailed on ITV racing as one of the upcoming courses in Britain with some tantalising prize money attracting a good quality of racing. Musselburgh attracted a record 70,000 people last year but cannot stage racing without the BHA’s official endorsement.

The council is now putting all the course’s good work in jeopardy. It thought the BHA would just roll over in this dispute but the BHA have called the council’s bluff.

Musselburgh has been operating on a temporary licence since start of the year. The deadline for agreeing to an independent review in to the governance of the course was last Friday but Councillor Innes did not give the required guarantee so the licence lapsed.

It now looks unlikely that those involved in preparing for next week’s meeting will have enough time to ensure it goes ahead.

Mr Innes has said in a statement that he is convening a meeting to discuss the BHA situation next Tuesday which will be too late to save the 14 July meeting.

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