BBC chair quits as probe finds he failed to disclose political ties


BBC Chair Richard Sharp has resigned after an official inquiry found he breached rules by failing to fully disclose ties to the UK’s Conservative Party leadership.

The UK government appointments watchdog commissioned an independent probe into Sharp after it emerged that he helped arrange a loan —  valued at as much as £800 000 (over R18 million) — to former UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

The loan was not publicly disclosed during his application for the BBC role.

The final report, compiled by senior lawyer Adam Heppinstall KC and published Friday, said Sharp had breached the UK governance code with a lack of transparency, which risked the perception of a conflict of interest. 

Sharp said his breach was inadvertent and not material but the episode “may well be a distraction from the corporation’s good work, were I to remain in post until the end of my term.”

He will stay in post until the end of June while his successor is found. 

Sharp, 67, a Conservative Party donor and former banker who was current Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s boss at Goldman Sachs Group, worked in an unpaid advisory role for Johnson and Sunak during the Covid-19 outbreak in 2020.

Sharp’s resignation removes pressure for Sunak himself to act. The prime minister has said he wants to run a government defined by integrity. A week ago another senior lawyer’s report found Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab guilty of bullying, prompting him to resign as justice secretary.

In a public letter, Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer thanked Sharp for his work and said she was sure there would be “further opportunities for you to make a significant contribution to public life.” 

The opposition Labour Party’s Lucy Powell said the breach had “caused untold damage to the reputation of the BBC and seriously undermined its independence as a result of the Conservatives’ sleaze and cronyism.”

Non-disclosure

Sharp started his four-year term as chairman of the publicly funded BBC in February 2021. At the time, he was asked about his ties to the government in the period before his appointment. He denied that anyone in the party had helped his application. 

But in January, a report by the Sunday Times said that Sharp was recommended for the job weeks after helping Johnson secure the loan. The story triggered accusations that the government-led appointment process could have been compromised and led to the establishment of the Heppinstall review. 

During the appointment process Sharp didn’t disclose his conversations about the loan to the public or to lawmakers, though he did tell the UK’s most senior civil servant, Cabinet Secretary Simon Case. 

Case wrote to Johnson in December 2020 saying that Sharp’s imminent appointment made it “important that you no longer ask his advice about your personal financial matters,” according to the Sunday Times.

In February, a committee of lawmakers criticised Sharp for not telling them about the loan talks, saying it undermined confidence in the public appointments process. They said there was an “unresolved issue about why the cabinet secretary believed Mr Sharp had been giving financial advice to the then prime minister, which Mr Sharp insists that he had not done.”

The UK’s commissioner for public appointments launched a probe into the process, then recused himself because he had met Sharp on previous occasions, passing the job to Heppinstall.

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