Prisons boss takes the helm at under-fire Scottish Canals

Catherine Topley.
Catherine Topley.

Scottish Canals has appointed Catherine Topley is its new chief executive, with the remit of delivering long term financial sustainability during what she has already confirmed are “challenging times”.

She has been interim chief executive since June, following the departure of previous incumbent Steve Dunlop to Scottish Enterprise, and gains the post after seeing off competition from 60 other applicants.

Ms Topley, currently Director of Corporate Services at the Scottish Prison Service, takes the helm at a time when Scottish Canals is under pressure to invest more heavily in the Forth and Clyde and Union Canals.

A spate of damaged locks and bridges have forced the body to make difficult choices over what to repair, and when.

The group Keep Canals Alive! argues failure to keep canal traffic moving will ultimately lead to degeneration of the system to its former derelict state.

However Scottish Canals, in a recently published management strategy, argues it has to weigh priorities carefully to use its present budget effectively - and has stressed that public safety must be paramount.

Scottish Canals chairman Andrew Thin said: “I am delighted that Catherine will be joining Scottish Canals as CEO in a permanent capacity.

“She has significant experience of the public and private sectors and brings great leadership expertise at a crucial stage in the organisation’s journey.

“Not only will she build on the innovation and creativity which has made Scottish Canals so unique in using these publicly-owned assets to deliver more for the people of Scotland, she will ensure strong governance and control in an organisation whose activities are becoming ever more complex and diverse.”

Besides her prisons role Ms Topley has also worked for the Scottish Police Authority as well as in private sector roles across retail, manufacturing and financial services.

She said: “As the recently-launched Asset Management Strategy shows, Scotland’s canals face challenging times with a £70 million repairs backlog and 200-250 year old assets that are under constant pressure from degradation, climate change and increased usage – all at a time of public spending constraints.

“However, by creating exciting new tourist destinations at Fort Augustus, Ardrishaig and Bowling and leading regeneration work in places such as North Glasgow and Falkirk, Scotland’s canals are contributing to the economy in new and imaginative ways.”

She added: “Scottish Canals is a great organisation, with an ambitious vision and a committed and highly-skilled team.

“I intend to build on what it has achieved so far in using these publicly-owned heritage assets to deliver wide economic, environmental, health and social benefits in new and innovative ways for many years to come.”