The next chairperson of the Musselburgh Joint Racing Committee will need a range of qualities, but a faculty for bridge-building might be a key skill.
The need for a new leader arose after the previous incumbent, John Caldwell, failed to retain his seat on the East Lothian Council election.
That brought an end to his five-year tenure at Musselburgh racecourse which was branded as a “dictatorship” by one source to the point that Caldwell attempted to circumvent accepted industrial relations procedure.
Caldwell, who had twice been the subject of no-confidence votes by racecourse staff, has left Musselburgh still facing the possibility of having its racing licence revoked by the British Horseracing Authority.
Musselburgh is currently operating on a temporary licence from the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) due to concerns over the course’s governance. This is the second consecutive three-month licence issued by the BHA and is due to expire on June 30.
The course is managed by the Musselburgh Joint Racing Committee (MJRC) which was established in 1994 and is made up of four councillors and three representatives from the Lothians Racing Syndicate (LRS). The committee has been brought to a virtual standstill for more than six months having failed to pass the budget for the latest financial year or get to grips with industrial relations problems that have dogged Musselburgh for nearly three years.
The first outward sign of the scale of the issue came in 2015 when Musselburgh lost its Investors In People (IIP) award after inspectors for IIP Scotland described the committee as “dysfunctional”. Caldwell chose to brand the damming report as “fundamentally flawed with inaccurate and misleading information”.
The staff at Musselburgh first issued a grievance in August 2014, which has yet to be dealt with satisfactorily despite a meeting with the then Cllr Caldwell in February 2015. Their grievance was dismissed along with their right to an appeal after which they joined the GMB trade union.
The union managed to get an appeal heard earlier this year but the lack of resolution brought about a second no-confidence vote and a threat of industrial action.
Even achieving an appeal hearing was a fraught process according to Barry Fletcher, the GMB representative, who said: “A grievance procedure, which is set out in the Acas Code of Practice, isn’t legally binding but it’s generally accepted as natural justice.
“Mr Caldwell dismissed the right to appeal and although I got the right to appeal, that was a struggle as well. On the day of the meeting Mr Caldwell was still refusing to meet us but we finally convinced him to meet us. It’s been an absolute nightmare – he just wouldn’t discuss anything. He wasn’t a very cooperative person.”
Among the issues at the centre of the dispute was, Fletcher said, a pay claim for his members which was not addressed along with the decision to withdraw a staff bonus scheme without warning or any explanation.
Fletcher has a mandate for industrial action by his members but is still taking a conciliatory approach in the hope that the next incarnation of the MJRC will be more amenable to a negotiated settlement. “What we would like is for the next committee to have meetings with GMB and staff,” he said.
The hope for Fletcher and his members is that will not prove a bridge too far for the MJRC.
* Annie Power, the winner of the 2016 Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham, has been retired from racing after attempts to get her back on track last season repeatedly met with setbacks. The mare, who was trained by Willie Mullins, is already in foal to Camelot.
Source : HeraldScotland