...By Henry George for TDPel Media.
Richard Sharp, the chairman of the BBC, has resigned from his role after it was discovered that he had failed to disclose his involvement in securing an £800,000 loan guarantee for Boris Johnson.
Adam Heppinstall KC’s review found that Sharp had twice breached the code governing public appointments, which risked the perception that he was not independent from the then-prime minister.
Sharp resigned before Rishi Sunak was forced to decide on his fate and the review was published on Friday, stating that Sharp risked a perception that he was recommended for the role because he had assisted Johnson “in a private financial matter” ahead of his appointment in 2021.
Sharp had been introduced to Cabinet Secretary Simon Case by his friend Sam Blyth, who was a distant cousin of Johnson and who had financial troubles.
This introduction was made ahead of Sharp being recommended for the role by the Government. Heppinstall’s report considered how Sharp had told Johnson that he wished to apply for the role ahead of his application in November 2020, and how he met Cabinet Secretary Simon Case the following month regarding the introduction to Mr Blyth over the then prime minister’s financial affairs.
In his resignation statement, Sharp insisted that his breach of the rules was “inadvertent and not material”. He stated that he had decided to stand down from the influential role overseeing the public broadcaster’s independence to prioritize the interests of the BBC.
The former Goldman Sachs banker felt that the matter may have distracted from the Corporation’s good work had he remained in post until the end of his term.
The Prime Minister defended himself from suggestions that he should have sacked Sharp weeks ago, arguing that it was right to follow the “proper process”.
Labour’s shadow culture secretary Lucy Powell criticized Sharp for causing untold damage to the reputation of the BBC and seriously undermining its independence as a result of the Conservatives’ sleaze and cronyism.
In a letter to Sharp, Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer said that he was “held in high regard” by the BBC board, but added that she understood and respected his decision to stand down.
She accepted the decision that he should remain in post until the next board meeting on June 27 when a temporary replacement will be appointed.
The review found that Sharp had failed to disclose potential perceived conflicts of interest to the panel which interviewed candidates and advised Ministers.
He formally took up the four-year appointment, ultimately approved by Johnson, in February 2021. The outgoing chairman insisted that he made the introduction “with the best of intentions” to ensure all rules were being followed.
He said he believed that by reminding Case he was in the running for the job, he had removed any perceived conflict of interest.
However, Heppinstall ruled that it would have been “appropriate” for Sharp to tell the interview panel of the conversation, as Johnson was Mr Sharp’s current “boss” and also the person who would make the final decision on the recommendation for appointment and a person from whom Mr Sharp would have to maintain independence if so appointed.
Richard Sharp’s resignation as BBC chairman was not unexpected. The findings of the review by Adam Heppinstall KC had revealed that Sharp had twice breached the code governing public appointments.
The revelations risked the perception that Sharp was not independent from the then-prime minister, Boris Johnson. This perception, combined with Sharp’s failure to disclose potential perceived conflicts of interest, meant that his position was untenable.
Sharp’s resignation, announced before Rishi Sunak was forced to make a decision on his fate, allowed the government to avoid a potential scandal.
Sharp’s resignation has raised questions about the role of political appointees in public organizations. Lucy Powell’s criticism of Sharp for undermining the BBC’s independence as a result of the Conservatives’ sleaze and cronyism is a reflection of the public’s opinion.