A REVIEW of the management of Musselburgh Racecourse laid bare “considerable mistrust, weariness, resentment and bitterness” between the two warring factions.

The findings of the review have, until now, been kept secret, after East Lothian Council insisted that the document could not be made public because it was “commercially sensitive”.

However, the Courier successfully challenged that decision and has now been given a copy of the report, which reveals the depth of the fall-out.

The now-disbanded Musselburgh Joint Racing Committee (MJRC), which managed the course, was made up of four East Lothian councillors and three members of Lothians Racing Syndicate (LRS), representing racing interests.

But in February this year, the council replaced the MJRC with a new associated committee, given the council a 4-2 majority over the LRS.

That move followed the findings of a review into the governance of MJRC, ordered last year after the British Horseracing Authority threatened not to renew its licence to operate.

In a 134-page report, released following a Freedom of Information request from the Courier, relations between the council and LRS were described as festering.

But it said there was hope for the future of the racecourse if changes to the way it was governed were introduced.

The report showed the depth of mistrust between the two groups represented on MJRC.

LRS members told the review, which was carried out by independent firm Pinsent Masons, they believed the councillors tended to make decisions that reflected the views of their constituents or themselves over the best interests of racing and failed to show “proper and appropriate deference” to those who had experience of managing and operating a racecourse.

They argued that the in-built council majority on MJRC prevented the racecourse from being governed effectively.

One example of an issue they felt that highlighted the problem was harness racing.

LRS said it and its members on MJRC wanted to scrap the annual two-day event but were over-ruled by councillors on the committee, who said their local constituents enjoyed it.

LRS then accused the councillors of being more concerned about being seen to be “negative” towards the travelling community than the best interest of the racecourse.

From the council side, it was reported that the local authority was “similarly sensitive to, and wary of, the LRS and its intentions”.

The review said councillors on MJRC took the view that the LRS had no “skin in the game”, with none of the liability, accountability or responsibility they had.

The report, which was released to councillors in February but kept confidential from the public, added that the council considered it had bailed out the racecourse when it was in considerable debt, saying: “The council has expressed to us a genuine fear of having to bail out the racecourse again in the future.”

The report added: “To the outsider looking in, [the racecourse] is an exemplar to the racing industry.

“Indeed, in our work in this review, it is the staff who we conclude have been caught up in the breakdown between two stakeholders who together are tasked with managing and directing them.

“The review laid bare considerable mistrust, weariness, resentment and bitterness in relation to issues that have festered over a considerable period of time.”

The two parties could not even agree on when problems began.

While one side claimed it started when a campaign to have an all-weather track introduced at Musselburgh failed, the other pointed the finger at the withdrawal of an Investors In People accreditation and a “refusal of East Lothian Council and its councillors to acknowledge the key messages” it sent.

The review praised Councillor Fiona O’Donnell, who took over as chairwoman of MJRC last year and now chairs Musselburgh Racecourse Associated Committee.

It said: “It was encouraging to us that, on speaking with Councillor O’Donnell, she has been making considerable attempts to break down barriers that have been put up given the circumstances arising in recent years.

“In concluding this review, we believe there are many grounds for optimism and hope that a way forward can and will be put in place that consigns the past to history and creates a path that will see the best interests of horseracing met.”

East Lothian Council is currently seeking a third party to operate the racecourse in the future on its behalf, after considering options presented to the local authority following the review.