BC President Richard Sharp on Monday asked the broadcaster’s nominations committee to look into a potential conflict of interest as questions arose over his involvement in an £800,000 loan to Boris Johnson when he was prime minister.
In an email to all BBC staff on Monday morning, Mr Sharp said he wanted to ensure “all the appropriate guidelines have been followed”.
He said: “We have many challenges at the BBC and I know such distractions are not welcome.
“Our work at the BBC is based on trust. Although the appointment of a BBC chair is a matter solely for the government … I want to ensure that all appropriate guidelines have been followed within the BBC since I joined.”
The Sunday Times reported that Mr Sharpe, a former Goldman Sachs banker and Tory donor, was involved in negotiations to arrange the loan for Mr Johnson, which was underwritten by Canadian businessman Sam Blyth in late 2020.
The newspaper claimed that Mr Blyth raised the idea of underwriting the facility with Mr Sharp, who then took the suggestion to Cabinet Secretary Simon Case. Mr Sharp insisted yesterday: “There is no conflict when I simply, at his request, associate Mr Blyth with the Cabinet Secretary and there was no further involvement.”
But Roger Mossey, one of the broadcaster’s former top news executives, said the decision to hand him the high profile role was “surprising”.
The former editorial director and head of TV news told Times Radio: “If you look at all the people across the UK in the recruitment process, Richard Sharpe was with editorial and journalism and the media industry? I just raise an eyebrow.
“He may be, but I think the result was surprising, maybe, if you’re looking for someone who has the knowledge to take over the BBC.”
Labour’s shadow culture secretary Lucy Powell said the claims were “very serious”, adding that she had written to the Commissioner for Public Appointments, William Shawcross, to look into the process that led to Mr Sharpe’s job.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I have written to them because there are some very serious allegations here and there are real deep concerns about the recruitment process for this very important role in terms of (who is) chairman of the BBC. Maintain fairness and independence.
“Yet we find that the person who was appointed to this job was at the same time helping to advise the then prime minister about a dirty, sordid arrangement with its dirty finances.”
Liberal Democrat deputy leader Daisy Cooper called on the prime minister’s new ethics adviser Sir Laurie Magnus to investigate, saying “unexplained financial dealings and links to top government-appointed jobs do not pass the smell test”.
The BBC President is a role appointed by the monarch, following a process that follows the Official Code for Public Appointments, on the recommendation of the government. Any conflict of interest must be declared.
The BBC said: “The BBC plays no role in the Chair’s recruitment and any question is a matter for the Government.”
Mr Mossi said: “It would be better if the chair of the BBC was not seen as a political appointment. It would be better to see him floating above everyday politics.
“And the problem for Richard Sharp is that if he interjects properly some time about the BBC being a bit liberal, soft left-wing, everyone is just going to say, ‘Well, that’s because you’re a Tory. And you gave £400,000 to the Tory party and you had dinner with Boris Johnson. That’s the challenge he’s going to have now.
A spokesman for Mr Johnson said: “Mr Johnson actually had dinner with Mr Sharp, whom he has known for almost 20 years, and with his cousin. So what? Big deal.”
Asked about the storm this morning, Sky News reported that Mr Johnson described Mr Sharpe’s claims as “absolute rubbish”: “Richard Sharpe knows absolutely nothing about my finances.”
(tags to translate) boris johnson