BBC chairman Richard Sharp ‘broke expected standards’ for bid | BBC

Senior BBC officials believe its chairman, Richard Sharp, seriously undermined the company’s impartiality after a damning parliamentary report accused him of failing to publicly disclose his role in facilitating a loan for Boris Johnson.

In findings that cast further doubt on Sharp’s future at the BBC, the all-party committee said the chairman “should consider the impact his omissions will have on trust in him, the BBC and the process of public appointment”.

Sharp, a Tory donor and former boss of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, has been accused of making “significant errors of judgement” and undermining the selection process for the BBC chairmanship. The Commons’ digital, culture, media and sports committee said it omitted details of his involvement in linking the Cabinet Office with a businessman interested in offering financial assistance to Johnson . He said the omissions “constitute a violation of the standards expected of individuals” applying for significant public appointments.

His findings come after Sharp admitted introducing Johnson’s friend and distant cousin, Sam Blyth, to the Cabinet Office. Blyth then provided Johnson with a loan guarantee facility of up to £800,000, but has since said the full amount was unused. It is still unclear who provided the loan itself. Sharp’s role was not disclosed during the selection process for the BBC chairmanship or at a pre-nomination hearing held by the Commons committee.

Calls have already been made for the former prime minister to be independently investigated into the matter, which is still the subject of two further inquiries. An inquiry, overseen by Adam Heppinstall KC, is looking into the selection process for the BBC chairmanship, while a company inquiry is looking into any conflicts of interest.

The case has caused great anger within the BBC. Some complain that with repeated criticism of the society’s impartiality by Conservative government figures, it is the same government that has done the most to undermine it. “This government has rightly stressed the importance of maintaining trust in public service broadcasting now,” said a senior BBC information officer. “The BBC, the Tories said, must avoid any appearance of bias. So how does this help? The way this report undermines the government’s earlier defense of the robust nominating process Sharp followed is the most damaging finding.

Lucy Powell, the shadow culture secretary, said: ‘This is a damning report which makes the BBC chairman’s position increasingly untenable as it seriously calls into question the impartiality and independence that are so fundamental to trusting the BBC. Tory cronyism is dragging the BBC down when we should be making it the cornerstone of our creative economy.”

On Saturday evening, a spokesman for Sharp said the BBC chairman “appreciates that there was information which the committee felt he should have been made aware of during his pre-appointment hearing. He regrets and apologizes.There was also an attempt to assuage the heightened feelings within the BBC.

A spokesperson said: “Mr Sharp would like to apologize once again to the brilliant staff of the BBC, given the distraction he has caused. He is proud of the work done by the Board to bring positive changes at the BBC over the past two years and looks forward to continuing this work, and looks forward to the findings of the independent report chaired by Adam Heppinstall KC.

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However, Sharp and his team remain suspicious of his actions, saying he acted in “good faith” throughout. A spokesman said Sharp had been reassured by the Cabinet Office that after he introduced Blyth to Cabinet Secretary Simon Case he was not involved in any loan discussions and that there was no had no conflict of interest.

“It was not suggested by the Cabinet Office that the act of linking Mr Blyth to Mr Case was something that should be declared, and it was explicitly agreed that by not being a party to the case (in the future), he would be excluded from any dispute,” the Sharp spokesman said.

Daisy Cooper, deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats, said the report raised questions for Johnson. “Boris Johnson now also has to face the music and answer the questions of an independent inquiry,” she said. “The ministerial ethics adviser must open an investigation.”

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