Economist with a tendency to giggle

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CLARE Spottiswoode, who took over at Ofgas last November, is firmly in the mould of her peers at the many other regulatory offices which mushroomed in the privatisation air of the 1980s.

Ms Spottiswoode (pronounced without the 'i') is distinguished by being the only female to have held such a post to date.

But in most other respects her background is like that of her compatriots - academic, close to government, and, until her appointment, low profile. The minor exception was her predecessor at Ofgas, Sir James McKinnon, a former industry finance director.

But then many saw the replacement of the prickly Sir James by the giggly Ms Spottiswoode as an attempt to molify British Gas.

A hyperactive 41-year old London Business School lecturer and self-made businesswoman, Ms Spottiswoode was chosen by Tim Eggar, the energy minister. At the time he spoke of her 'first-hand experience of competition at the sharp end, and her economics background,' as key elements for the pounds 70,000 a year post.

But before long she was crossing swords with her political masters over the Government's wish to impose a 'green tax' on energy.

She then fluffed a potentially populist line with a poor performance before an all party select committee of MPs in March.

She has spoken of how she genuinely believed the management team at British Gas wished to run the company in a 'professional way'. Yet the obvious switch of style left her open to accusations she was naive in her relationship with the monopolistic giant.