COUNCILLORS today voted unanimously, at a meeting held in private, to take an even firmer grip of troubled Musselburgh Racecourse.

East Lothian Council said it received full support from elected members for its plans to abolish Musselburgh Joint Racing Committee (MRJC), which has run the course for nearly 15 year, and replace it with a new Musselburgh Racecourse Associated Committee.

The new committee will be made up of four elected councillors from various parties, and two racing experts.

The previous committee had four elected councillors and three representatives from Lothians Racing Syndicate (LRS), which has jointly operated the course.

It is not clear if members of the syndicate will take up the two expert spaces on the new committee but the organisation has reacted with fury at the council's decision.

Staff at the racecourse have been told they will become council employees and moves are underway to transfer them with their current terms and conditions.

Councillor Fiona O'Donnell, acting chairperson of the previous MJRC, who is expected to continue in that role under the new set up, said: "Musselburgh Racecourse has been a home to horseracing for more than 200 years.

"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."

East Lothian Council says the move is a "further significant step" towards securing the future of Musselburgh Racecourse.

The racecourse’s current temporary licence from the British Horseracing Authority (BHA), which expires in April, was conditional on the requirement of an independent governance review of MJRC and implementation of its recommendations.

The independent review was carried out by solicitors Pinsent Masons with the joint agreement of East Lothian Council and LRS. 

Its findings - which have not been made public - set out a number of options for the racecourse’s future governance.

At today’s meeting of East Lothian Council in Haddington, councillors agreed to implement the option of a new committee to run the course, which would have twice as many councillors on it as non-councillors.

The racecourse decision was taken in private after council officials ruled the issue was too "commerically sensitive" for public debate.

John Prideaux, chairman of the Lothians Racing Syndicate, said afterwards: “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.

“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.

“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, its staff and racing in Scotland.”

LRS - whose directors all have a background in horseracing - ran the racecourse until East Lothian Council stepped in in the early 1990s, when the track was in difficulties, and set up the joint committee to manage it.

Lothians Racing Syndicate is now a dormant limited company which lists its sole purpose as to ensure that racing takes place at Muselburgh in perpetuity.

Musselburgh Racecourse is on Common Good land but the council owns all the facilities, including the grandstands and stables.

MRJC pays a full commercial rent for use of the land and facilities to both the Common Good Fund and East Lothian Council. 

Musselburgh Racecourse is run on a not-for-profit basis, with profits reinvested in infrastructure and improving facilities.