Decc picks competition heavyweight Alex Chisholm as new perm sec

Appointment of new leader at the energy department comes after the Competition and Markets Authority called for a "reset" of government's relationship with energy suppliers

By Matt Foster

11 May 2016

The UK's competition watchdog, Alex Chisholm, has been named as the new permanent secretary of the Department for Energy and Climate Change (Decc), months after his organisation urged a shake-up of Britain's energy markets.

Chisholm, who has served as chief executive of the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) since its formation through the merger of the Competition Commission and the Office of Fair Trading in 2014, will become Decc's most senior civil servant when current perm sec Stephen Lovegrove moves to lead the Ministry of Defence in July.

The CMA recently published the findings of an 18-month long investigation of the energy market, which warned of a lack of competition in the sector and called for a "reset" in the relationship between Decc, energy regulator Ofgem and major suppliers.

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The preliminary report said around 70% of customers of the 'Big Six' largest energy firms were still stuck on more expensive "default" tariffs, and warned that customers may have been paying some £1.7bn a year more than they would under a properly competitive market.

Speaking at an event hosted by the Whitehall and Industry Group on Wednesday, Chisholm admitted he had "no notion" that his speech would end up being a valedictory address.

"But then in Whitehall, as in Industry, much can change in three months," he added.

Chisholm said he would "treasure the experience" of setting up the CMA and vowed to bring a "forward-looking market awareness, and commitment to performance and continual improvement" from his time at the competition watchdog.

Before becoming CMA chief, Chisholm headed up Ireland's Commission for Communications Regulation, the Irish equivalent of Ofcom. He has moved in and out of Whitehall during his career, having spent twelve years working in media and communications roles, including stints at publisher the Pearson group and the Financial Times.

Prior to that, the Oxford-educated Chisholm, who joined the civil service as a Fast Streamer, worked in a number of economic policy and regulatory roles at the Department of Trade and Industry and the CMA's predecessor, the Office of Fair Trading. 

The CMA's executive director of markets and mergers, Andrew Coscelli, is stepping up to become interim chief exec as the organisation looks for a new leader. 

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