BBC chairman made ‘significant errors of judgment’ over Johnson loan, MPs find
BBC chairman Richard Sharp’s position is in increased peril after MPs found he made “significant errors of judgment” by acting as a go-between for a loan for Boris Johnson.
A cross-party committee was furious that Mr Sharp failed to declare to MPs his role in facilitating the loan when he was applying for the job of BBC chairman and said he should “consider the impact his omissions will have” on trust in the broadcaster.
They said his actions “constitute a breach of the standards expected of individuals” applying for prominent public appointments.
Mr Sharp has insisted that he did not arrange the loan but admitted introducing his friend Sam Blyth, a cousin of Mr Johnson who wanted to help the then-prime minister with his financial troubles, to the Cabinet Office.
Mr Sharp was named as the preferred candidate for the BBC job in January 2021 and the Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee backed his appointment – but crucially they were not aware of his role in facilitating the £800,000 loan guarantee.
In a strongly-worded report they have now suggested Mr Sharp’s failure to come clean could damage the BBC.
“Richard Sharp’s decisions, firstly to become involved in the facilitation of a loan to the then-prime minister while at the same time applying for a job that was in that same person’s gift, and then to fail to disclose this material relationship, were significant errors of judgment, which undermine confidence in the public appointments process and could deter qualified individuals from applying for such posts,” the MPs said.
The committee concluded: “Mr Sharp should consider the impact his omissions will have on trust in him, the BBC and the public appointments process.”
The MPs were also critical of Rishi Sunak and other senior ministers who had highlighted their 2021 decision to endorse Mr Sharp to defend the appointment since the row over the loan broke, despite the fact they had not been told about the situation.
“The fact that ministers have cited this committee’s original report on Mr Sharp’s appointment as a defence of the process was followed, when we were not in full possession of all the facts that we should have had before us in order to come to our judgment, is highly unsatisfactory,” the MPs said.
The MPs said there was an “unresolved issue” as to why Cabinet Secretary Simon Case believed Mr Sharp had himself been giving financial advice to Mr Johnson and called on the Cabinet Office to “clear up the confusion”.
“Mr Sharp denied that he had ever given financial advice to the then-prime minister but was unable to account for the decision by the Cabinet Office to issue a note to the prime minister advising him not to seek further financial advice from Mr Sharp given his impending appointment as chair of the BBC,” the MPs said.
Mr Sharp was called back to the committee on February 7 this year following Sunday Times’ revelations about his role in facilitating the loan for Mr Johnson.
He said that Mr Blyth’s offer of help for the then-prime minister was made in September 2020 and he had stressed the need for things to be done “by the book”.
Following the launch of the recruitment process for the BBC chairman role, Mr Blyth contacted Mr Sharp to request an introduction to the Cabinet Secretary to ensure due process was followed.
Mr Sharp told the MPs that he met Mr Johnson before going to see Mr Case and informed him that he would be telling the Cabinet Secretary about Mr Blyth’s offer of financial assistance.
Conflict of interest
Mr Sharp met Mr Case in December 2020, at which point he “agreed no further participation” in relation to the financial support, in order to avoid any conflict of interest or perception of conflict given his application,” the report said.
Mr Sharp told the MPs that as far he was concerned, that meant “the matter had been resolved”.
In their new report the MPs said: “Mr Sharp recognised the need to be open and transparent over facilitating an introduction of the then-prime minister to Mr Blyth regarding the £800,000 loan guarantee and brought this to the attention of the Cabinet Secretary.
“However, he failed to apply the same standards of openness and candour in his decision not to divulge this information during the interview process or to this committee during the pre-appointment hearing.”
Acting chairman of the DCMS Committee Damian Green said: “The public appointments process can only work effectively if everyone is open and transparent, yet Richard Sharp chose not to tell either the appointment panel or our committee about his involvement in the facilitation of a loan to Boris Johnson.
“Such a significant error of judgment meant we were not in the full possession of the facts when we were required to rule on his suitability for the role of BBC chair.”
Deputy Liberal Democrat leader Daisy Cooper said Mr Johnson “must now also face the music and answer questions from an independent inquiry”.
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A favour for a favour, old school pals look out for each other…
A conflict of interest, how can that be, it was in both our interests…
The way of our world dear boy…
Appointing Mr Sharp was also a ‘significant error of judgment’, but then again he went to the same university as disgraced former alleged party-time prime minister Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson and also served as his advisor when he was the occasional part-time mayor of London.
Cronyism is alive and well in London SW1.