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Richard Sharp Resigns as BBC Chairman after Loan Controversy

BBC

The Chairman of the BBC, Richard Sharp, has resigned following an investigation into the role he played in providing then-Prime Minister, Boris Johnson with an £800,000 loan in November 2020.

The investigation, which was led by Adam Heppinstall, found that Sharp had breached the rule on public appointments as he had failed to declare his connection to the loan. As a result, the report states that Sharp had created a “potential perceived conflict of interest”.

As per the findings, Sharp had contacted Johnson about the role at the BBC before applying telling him that he wanted the job. He also told Johnson that he was planning on meeting with the Cabinet Secretary, Simon Case, as he would be able to introduce Johnson to someone who could help with his personal finances.

At the time, Johnson was going through an expensive divorce and there were reports that he was struggling with his personal finances. The suggestion from the report is that Sharp effectively offered Johnson a way out of his financial woes in return for the job at the BBC.

Not long after Sharp met with Case in December 2020, the government started to brief media outlets that he was the government’s preferred candidate for the job. This put others off from applying as it appeared that the job was already lined up for Sharp.

The reports states that Johnson had also personally approved Sharp’s appointment while those on the “independent recruitment board” were informed before any interviews took place that he was the only person that the government would support.

A breach does not necessarily invalidate an appointment

In light of the report, which was published this morning, Sharp released a statement announcing that he would be standing down from his position as BBC Chair in June. However, he did make the point of saying that his breach did not invalidate his appointment. His resignation statement read:

“Mr Heppinstall’s view is that while I did breach the governance code for public appointments, he states that a breach does not necessarily invalidate an appointment.

Indeed, I have always maintained the breach was inadvertent and not material, which the facts he lays out substantiate. The Secretary of State has consulted with the BBC Board who support that view.

Nevertheless, I have decided that it is right to prioritise the interests of the BBC. I feel that this matter may well be a distraction from the Corporation’s good work were I to remain in post until the end of my term. I have therefore this morning resigned as BBC Chair to the Secretary of State, and to the Board.

To chair this incredible organisation has been an honour. The BBC’s contribution to our national life is immense, its people are hardworking and brilliant, and preserving and enhancing it matters.”

Sharp added that he wishes “with the benefit of hindsight” that he had mentioned the perceived conflict of interest during his interview with the appointments panel but that he maintains he played “no part whosoever” in the “facilitation, arrangement, or financing” of Johnson’s loan.

Reaction to the resignation

With Sharp set to step down in June, the government will now be responsible, alongside the BBC, for appointing a new Chair. In regard to the appointment process going forward, the report found that “leaks and briefing to the press of ‘preferred candidates’ for public appointments should be prohibited by ministers.”

Lucy Powell, the Shadow Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, has echoed these thoughts saying that “Rishi Sunak should urgently establish a truly independent and robust process to replace Sharp to help restore the esteem of the BBC after his government has tarnished it so much.” She added:

“The incident has caused untold damage to the reputation of the BBC and seriously undermined its independence as a result of the Conservative’ sleaze and cronyism.”

Meanwhile, Powell’s opposite number, Lucy Frazer, who was appointed by Sunak during his cabinet reshuffle in February has written a letter to Sharp thanking him for his service to the BBC calling him a “champion for what a strong BBC can achieve” and wishing him well for the future.

Boris Johnson has declined to talk to the press about Sharp’s resignation while Rishi Sunak admitted that he hasn’t had time to read the report yet when quizzed by reporters in Glasgow.

Final thought

It’s been a torrid time for the BBC of late following the controversy surrounding Gary Lineker, who was briefly taken off air by Richard Sharp just last month for speaking out against the Conservative Party on Twitter and their immigration policies last month. Following the resignation of Sharp, Lineker once again took to Twitter, this time to say that the Chair of the BBC should not be appointed by the government “not now, not ever.”

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