BBC chairman Richard Sharp made “significant errors of judgement” by facilitating an £800,000 loan guarantee for Boris Johnson, a cross-party committee of MPs has found.
The Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee said Mr Sharp should “consider the impact his omissions will have” on public trust in the broadcaster after he failed to declare his role as a go-between for the former prime minister when applying for the chairman’s job.
The MPs also said his actions “constitute a breach of the standards expected of individuals” applying for prominent public appointments.
Mr Sharp said he did not arrange the loan but admitted introducing his friend Sam Blyth, a cousin of Mr Johnson who wanted to help the then-prime minister, to the Cabinet Office.
A spokesperson for Mr Sharp said he “regrets” not telling MPs about his association with Mr Blyth “and apologises”.
“It was in seeking at the time to ensure that the rules were followed, and in the belief that this had been achieved, that Mr Sharp acted in good faith in the way he did,” the spokesperson said.
Speaking on Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme, development minister Andrew Mitchell said the report’s findings are a “matter for the BBC”.
“I think Damian Green (acting chair of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee) is a very senior member of the House of Commons and what he and his committee says matters,” he said.
“But I think, as I say, this is really something which the public appointments commissioner must look at and we must wait for his judgement. And above all, of course, it’s a matter for the judgement of the BBC.”
Chairman of the BBC – What is the role?
The chairman of the BBC is the head of the BBC board – on a salary of £160,000.
They are responsible for maintaining the independence of the BBC while overseeing the functioning of the corporation to fulfill its mission.
The chairman is also in charge of the process for appointing the director-general and can dismiss the person in this role. They also act as the corporation’s most senior representative to parliament and the government, including the devolved administrations.
Roger Mosey, a former head of TV news at the BBC, told Sky News it was a job with “two directions”.
He said while it is “the most important role for the accountability of the BBC to the public”, it is not one which is involved in the BBC’s journalism.
But Mr Mosey pointed out that it is not uncommon for the chair to be a political appointment and that this is “nothing new”.
‘Far-reaching implications for the BBC’s reputation’
Meanwhile, shadow levelling up secretary Lisa Nandy has said Mr Sharp’s position is becoming “increasingly untenable” in the wake of the findings.
She added that the government had “relied on the defence” that the committee had approved the appointment of Mr Sharp.
Ms Nandy continued: “But the committee today is saying that actually, had they known about this, it would have been a very different situation.
“This information was not disclosed to them prior to approving that appointment.”
Speaking about the report, she said: “It is a really serious development and it makes Richard Sharp’s position look increasingly untenable.”
She later added: “I think it’s difficult to see how Richard Sharp could possibly stay in the position that he’s in given the far reaching implications for the reputation of the BBC and the implications for trust in journalism.”
According to the Sunday Times the loan guarantee was first suggested by Canadian millionaire Sam Blyth during a dinner with Richard Sharp.
Early December 2020:
In early December, Richard Sharp put Sam Blyth in contact with the Cabinet Secretary, Simon Case.
Before the end of the year, Richard Sharp and Sam Blyth met with Boris Johnson for dinner at his country residence, Chequers. They insist the prime minister’s finances were not discussed.
At the start of January, the government announced Richard Sharp as the preferred candidate to be BBC chairman.
The strongly-worded report from the cross-party MPs on the committee suggests Mr Sharp’s actions could damage the BBC.
The same committee backed Mr Sharp’s appointment to the chairman’s job in January 2021 but was not aware of his role in facilitating the loan.
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“Richard Sharp’s decisions, firstly to become involved in the facilitation of a loan to the then-prime minister while at the same time applying for a job that was in that same person’s gift, and then to fail to disclose this material relationship, were significant errors of judgement, which undermine confidence in the public appointments process and could deter qualified individuals from applying for such posts,” the committee said.
The MPs continued: “Mr Sharp should consider the impact his omissions will have on trust in him, the BBC and the public appointments process.”
A Cabinet Office spokesperson said: “The Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments is reviewing the competition to ensure the process was run in compliance with the rules and we will await the outcome.”