BBC chairman Richard Sharp has made “omissions” and “significant errors of judgement”, notes the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee of the House of Commons, one of the two chambers of the British Parliament.
Headed by acting committee chair Damian Green, it published a report on his conduct and the process behind Sharp’s appointment to his BBC role, amid recent allegations that he failed to disclose a potential conflict of interest. The report became public just after midnight London time on Sunday, days after the commission questioned the 66-year-old.
In his appearance on Tuesday, Sharp had defended himself after recent news reports said he had helped arrange a loan guarantee for Boris Johnson just weeks before the then British Prime Minister recommended Sharp for his current role with Britain’s public broadcaster. . With his chair under fire, the BBC board subsequently revealed it would investigate the matter.
“I never gave financial advice to the former prime minister,” Sharp said on Tuesday, reiterating an earlier statement on the matter. “I don’t know about his personal financial affairs,” he later added. “I did not facilitate a loan.” He also said, “I believe I was appointed on merit.”
The Sunday Times had reported last month that former Goldman Sachs banker Sharp, 66, who has also been a donor to Johnson’s Conservative Party, was involved in arranging a guarantor for a loan of up to £800,000 ($990,000) for now ex-premier Johnson after he had reached the final stages of the recruitment process for BBC seats. Sharp then said that he “simply hooked up” Johnson and millionaire Sam Blythe, a distant cousin of Johnson’s. “There is no conflict,” he argued, emphasizing that he had “no further involvement whatsoever.”
A Johnson representative said at the time that he was not getting any financial advice from Sharp. And a BBC representative said at the time: “The BBC has no role in the recruitment of the chairman, and any questions are a matter for the government.”
The parliamentary committee did criticize the BBC chairman. “Mr Sharp recognized the need to be open and transparent about facilitating an introduction from the then Prime Minister to Mr Blyth regarding the £800,000 loan guarantee and brought this to the attention of the Cabinet Secretary,” it wrote in its Sunday report.”However, he has not applied the same standards of openness and candor in his decision not to divulge this information during the interview process (for the BBC chairman) or to this committee during the pre-appointment hearing.”
It also stressed: “The public nomination process can only work effectively if all those involved are open and transparent. … The Prime Minister, the panel and this committee are all an integral part of the nomination process for the chairman of the BBC, but only Mr Johnson was fully aware of Mr Sharp’s potential conflict at the time the appointment was made done. The government and all those involved in the public nomination process must ensure that the future public nomination process is not clouded by partial disclosure.
The committee’s report further noted that “an unresolved issue remains as to why the cabinet secretary thought Mr. Sharp had provided financial advice to the then Prime Minister, which Mr. Sharp insists he hadn’t. The Cabinet Office should clear up the confusion…immediately.”
The parliamentary committee concluded: “Decisions made by Richard Sharp, firstly to become involved in facilitating a loan to the then Prime Minister and at the same time to apply for a job which was in the gift of that same person, and then not to make this material public relationship, were significant errors of judgment, undermining confidence in the public nomination process.”
The report concluded with a suggestion to the BBC chairman: “Mr. Sharp needs to think about the impact his omissions will have on confidence in him, the BBC and the public nomination process.