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BBC chairman resigns

 April 29, 2023

BBC Chairman Richard Sharp has resigned following an investigation that found he created the appearance of a conflict of interest by not fully disclosing his knowledge of former Prime Minister Boris Johnson's personal finances, as reported by BBC.

Sharp's resignation comes after months of speculation about his position and concerns over BBC's independence.

Sharp's Connection to Johnson and Potential Conflicts

Sharp, a former investment banker and Conservative Party donor, was a close associate of Johnson. The Sunday Times reported that while seeking a senior position at the BBC, Sharp played a role in the PM's personal finances.

In 2020, Sharp arranged a meeting between Cabinet Secretary Simon Case and Sam Blyth, a distant cousin of Johnson who offered financial support to the PM.

Sharp helped Blyth provide a personal loan guarantee worth £800,000 to Johnson, who was in financial distress.

The report found Sharp failed to disclose two potential perceived conflicts of interest: first, by telling Johnson he wanted to apply for the BBC role before doing so, and second, by telling the PM he intended to set up a meeting between Case and Blyth.

Sharp apologized for the second issue, describing it as "inadvertent and not material," but disagreed with the first.

Sharp's Defense and Resignation

Sharp ultimately resigned to "prioritize the interests of the BBC." He maintained that he did not play "any part whatsoever in the facilitation, arrangement, or financing of a loan for the former prime minister."

Sharp conceded that, with hindsight, he should have disclosed his role in setting up a meeting between Case and Blyth to the appointments panel during the scrutiny process ahead of him taking up the senior role, and he apologized for the "oversight."

Report's Findings

The report described Sharp's involvement in Johnson's private financial affairs as "very limited" but concluded that it should have been declared anyway.

The report did not make a judgment "on whether Mr. Sharp had any intention of seeking to influence the former Prime Minister in this manner."

Issues with the Recruitment Process

The investigation criticized the handling of Sharp's appointment process. The report determined that "leaks and briefing to the press of 'preferred candidates' for public appointments (referred to as 'pre-briefing') should be prohibited by ministers."

The report found that other candidates were deterred from applying for the position due to the perception that it was already reserved for Sharp.

Impact on the BBC

Sharp's resignation comes as the BBC faces criticism for its closeness to the Conservative government and questions about potential ministerial influence.

Labour's Lucy Powell said the incident "caused untold damage to the reputation of the BBC and seriously undermined its independence." She called for a truly independent and robust process to replace Sharp.

Government's Role in the New Appointment

The government will now select a new BBC chair for a four-year term, preventing a potential Labour government from making its own appointment until late 2027.

The part-time position involves overseeing the BBC's operations and managing relationships with the government.