Academic takes up Royal Society post

Professor Alan Alexander. Picture: comp
Professor Alan Alexander. Picture: comp
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A LEADING professor who led the merger of three companies to create Scottish Water has been appointed as general secretary of one of Edinburgh’s most prominent charities.

Professor Alan Alexander, 70, is taking up the key post at the Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE) – a city institution established in 1783 with the goal of advancing “learning and useful knowledge”.

He is replacing fellow academic and former Edinburgh University vice-principal Prof Alice Brown, who has become chairwoman of the Scottish Funding Council.

An expert in public sector management, Prof Alexander helped see through the high-profile merger to create Scottish Water during his five-year tenure as chairman of the public authority.

He would stand down from the position in 2006, having disagreed with an assessment by regulators that a delivery plan submitted by Scottish Water had fallen short of their requirements.

He urged ministers to consider mutualising the publicly-owned utility immediately following his resignation. “I’ve said privately when I was there – publicly now – that, as Scottish Water became more efficient, it would become very, very attractive to politicians to stop putting money into it,” he said.

“I can see a position where politicians say ‘let it be borrowed in the private market’.

“They can do that much more easily because the company is now efficient and because – and this is key – the real protection to the Scottish Water customer is regulation rather than ownership.”

The respected academic, who has a lengthy association with high-profile public bodies, has also previously argued that Edinburgh did not necessarily need someone in the post of lord provost. In a public speech delivered in the Capital, he said Edinburgh’s success in attracting major events such as the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting at a time when it did not have a lord provost showed it did not suffer from lacking a powerful figure in charge.

Prof Alexander is attached to the Strathclyde Business School and is a founding director of the Scottish Local Authorities Management Centre. He also worked as chairman of Scottish Water for five years, following an earlier post with the West of Scotland Water Authority.
RSE president Sir John Arbuthnott said: “Alan will also, I am sure, help to take forward the work of the society. Even before becoming general secretary he has been heavily involved in the RSE constitutional events, as well as serving as one of our co-chairs on the current inquiry into spreading the benefits of digital participation.”

Prof Alexander has also been a champion for university research across Britain, having chaired an independent review into funding arrangements.