Alex Chisholm

Alex Chisholm (born 2 January 1968) is a British civil servant and regulator, who has served as Cabinet Office Permanent Secretary and the chief operating officer of the United Kingdom's Civil Service since April 2020.

Alex Chisholm
Cabinet Office Permanent Secretary
Assumed office
14 April 2020
Cabinet Sec.Mark Sedwill
Simon Case
MinisterMichael Gove
Preceded byJohn Manzoni
Chief Operating Officer of the Civil Service
Assumed office
14 April 2020
HeadMark Sedwill
Simon Case
Preceded byJohn Manzoni[lower-alpha 1]
Permanent Secretary of the
Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
In office
5 September 2016  14 April 2020
Prime MinisterTheresa May
Boris Johnson
MinisterGreg Clark
Andrea Leadsom
Alok Sharma
Preceded byMartin Donnelly
Succeeded bySarah Munby
Personal details
Born (1968-01-02) 2 January 1968 (age 53)
Alma materMerton College, Oxford

He was previously the permanent secretary at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy from September 2016 to April 2020 and permanent secretary at the Department for Energy and Climate Change during 2016. Chisholm was previously the chief executive of the United Kingdom's Competition and Markets Authority and chair of the Irish Commission for Communications Regulation, and has held senior positions in the media, technology and e-commerce industries.

Early life and education

Alex Chisholm was born on 2 January 1968 in London to parents Ian Duncan Chisholm and Annabel Chisholm.[1] His father was a consultant psychiatrist and his mother was a daughter of James Bryan George Hennessy, 2nd Baron Windlesham.[2][3] He was educated at Downside School before studying history at Merton College, Oxford and a Master of Business Administration degree at INSEAD.[4][1]

Early career

Chisholm began work as a civil servant in 1990, working at the Department of Trade and Industry and Office of Fair Trading (OFT) until 1997.[1] He specialised in competition policy and the media, communications and financial services sectors.

He then worked for three years for Pearson plc and the Financial Times, before spending some years working for technology companies, eCountries Inc and Ecceleration Ltd.[4] He also founded ran Heritage Bulbs, a company specialising in the provision of rare and historic bulbs.[5]

In 2007 Chisholm was appointed as a commissioner of the Commission for Communications Regulation in Ireland, becoming its chair in February 2010.[6] He left the role to become the first chief executive of the Competition and Markets Authority in the United Kingdom, with his appointment announced on 8 January 2013.[7] The Competitions and Markets Authority (CMA) was formally launched on 1 October 2013 and became fully operational on 1 April 2014. It brought together the most of the responsibilities of the former OFT and the former Competition Commission. Chisholm, after taking up his post, was responsible for merging these two bodies and streamlining their operations.[8]

In 2014, the CMA began an inquiry into the banking sector, which was opposed by major banks.[9] The authority found that HSBC and First Trust Bank had broken competition rules.[10] During a talk to the Institute of Directors, he defended the existence of regulators because "some market participants can ruin it for everybody" and that Bitcoin provided "welcome competition".[11] In 2015, Chisholm wrote in a Financial Times article that proposed taxi regulations by Transport for London, following protests against ride-sharing firm Uber, would "artificially restrict competition".[12][13] In 2016 he announced a CMA report that advocated abolishing passenger rail franchising to allow different companies to run services on the same routes.[14]

Permanent secretary roles

Chisholm was appointed as permanent secretary to the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) in 2016, and continued as permanent secretary for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) after it was created nine days later in September 2016 by merging DECC and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.[15][16] His appointment was criticised by Stephen Fitzpatrick, the founder of OVO Energy, who said that a CMA inquiry into the energy industry that was run while he was chair was "subjected to lobbying from the big six" that resulted in reforms that The Times described as "watered down".[17] The review opposed the introduction of energy price caps, which BEIS introduced in 2019 while Chisholm was its permanent secretary.[18][19]

Civil service unions wrote to him in 2018 about the conduct of Claire Perry O'Neill, a minister in the BEIS who had been accused of swearing and screaming at civil servants.[20][21]

In April 2020 he was appointed as chief operating officer of the civil service and Cabinet Office Permanent Secretary, succeeding John Manzoni who had served as chief executive of the civil service and Cabinet Office Permanent Secretary. The role, as the civil service's "second in command", includes leading reform of the civil service and advising on the COVID-19 pandemic.[22][23][24] He began the new role on 14 April 2020.[25]

Personal life

Chisholm married Eliza Pakenham, daughter of the historian, Thomas Pakenham and granddaughter of Frank Pakenham, 7th Earl of Longford, in 1993.[1][26] They have three sons and live in London.[1] He has been a trustee of Breadline Africa, an international charity, since 2003, and served as its deputy chair.[1][6]


  1. Manzoni served as Chief Executive of the Civil Service


  1. "Chisholm, Alex, (born 2 Jan. 1968), Permanent Secretary, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, since 2016". WHO'S WHO & WHO WAS WHO. 2013. doi:10.1093/ww/9780199540884.013.U258764. Retrieved 21 April 2020.
  2. "Ian Duncan Chisholm | RCP Museum". Retrieved 21 April 2020.
  3. Burke's Peerage, Windlesham.
  4. Department for Business, Innovation & Skills press release, 8 January 2013.
  5. Sandy Mitchell, Meetings with remarkable bulbs, The Daily Telegraph, 11 September 2004 (accessed on 11 February 2013).
  6. "Alex Chisholm". Government of the United Kingdom. Retrieved 4 March 2016.
  7. "New competition authority completes leadership team – Press releases". Government of the United Kingdom. Retrieved 4 March 2016.
  8. How we are revitalising the magic of markets to drive the growth we need, Alex Chisholm, 3 April 2014, CityAm
  9. Treanor, Jill (6 November 2014). "Free banking in the firing line as competition inquiry launches". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 21 April 2020.
  10. Bachelor, Lisa (22 October 2014). "HSBC and First Trust Bank guilty of breaching competition rules". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 21 April 2020.
  11. Ralph, Alex. "Competition chief says bitcoin can liberate the oppressed". ISSN 0140-0460. Retrieved 21 April 2020.
  12. Kollewe, Julia; Topham, Gwyn (4 December 2015). "Uber fundraising drive values firm higher than General Motors". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 21 April 2020.
  13. correspondent, Gwyn Topham Transport (2 December 2015). "Uber backed by competition watchdog in TfL regulation battle". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 21 April 2020.
  14. "Competition regulator backs scrapping of rail franchises". the Guardian. 8 March 2016. Retrieved 21 April 2020.
  15. "BEIS perm sec responds after staff raise concerns over new department's identity | Civil Service World". Retrieved 21 April 2020.
  16. "Interview: BEIS perm sec Alex Chisholm on merging DECC and BIS, the Industrial Strategy, and the Brexit challenge | Civil Service World". Retrieved 21 April 2020.
  17. Fortson, Danny. "Energy bosses slam watchdog chief's move to run ministry". ISSN 0140-0460. Retrieved 21 April 2020.
  18. Peachey, Kevin (1 January 2019). "Energy price cap comes into force". BBC News. Retrieved 21 April 2020.
  19. Osborne, Alistair. "Eurasian Natural Resources Corp tests limits of virtue". ISSN 0140-0460. Retrieved 21 April 2020.
  20. "Stop Whitehall bullying, civil service unions tell ministers". the Guardian. 25 November 2018. Retrieved 21 April 2020.
  21. correspondent, Peter Walker Political (19 November 2018). "Energy minister Claire Perry accused of swearing and shouting at staff". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 21 April 2020.
  22. Editor, Oliver Wright, Policy. "Alex Chisholm appointed to oversee civil service reforms". ISSN 0140-0460. Retrieved 21 April 2020.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  23. "Chisholm named civil service chief operating officer to lead new reform drive | Civil Service World". Retrieved 21 April 2020.
  24. "Ex-officials with experience of crises recalled to Whitehall". the Guardian. 30 March 2020. Retrieved 21 April 2020.
  25. "Subscribe to read | Financial Times". Retrieved 21 April 2020. Cite uses generic title (help)
  26. Burns, John. "Atticus: Court case is a bone of contention for British mandarin Alex Chisholm". ISSN 0140-0460. Retrieved 21 April 2020.