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BBC chairman Richard Sharp made “omissions” and “significant errors of judgment,” the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee of the House of Commons, one of the two chambers of the British parliament, has found.
Led by acting committee chair Damian Green, it published a report on his conduct and the process behind the appointment of Sharp to his BBC role amid recent accusations that he failed to disclose a potential conflict of interest. The report became public just after midnight London time on Sunday, days after the committee had questioned the 66-year-old.
In his Tuesday appearance in front of it, Sharp had defended himself after recent news reports said that he had helped to arrange a loan guarantee for Boris Johnson just weeks before the then-U.K. prime minister recommended Sharp for his current role at the British public broadcaster. With its chair under fire, the BBC board then unveiled that it would investigate the issue.
“I have never given financial advice to the former prime minister,” Sharp had said on Tuesday, reiterating a previous statement on the issue. “I know nothing about his personal financial affairs,” he later added. “I didn’t facilitate a loan.” He also said that “I believe I was appointed on merit.”
The Sunday Times had reported last month that the 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-prime minister Johnson after he had reached the final stages of the BBC chair recruitment process. Sharp back then said that he “simply connected” Johnson and millionaire Sam Blythe, a distant cousin of Johnson’s. “There is not a conflict,” he argued, emphasizing that he “had no further involvement whatsoever.”
A Johnson representative said back then that he did not receive financial advice from Sharp. And a BBC rep said at the time: “The BBC plays no role in the recruitment of the chair, and any questions are a matter for the government.”
The parliamentary committee criticized the BBC chair though. “Mr. Sharp recognized 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,” it wrote in its Sunday report. “However, he failed to apply the same standards of openness and candor in his decision not to divulge this information during the interview process (for the BBC chair post) or to this committee during the pre-appointment hearing.”
It also highlighted: “The public appointments process can only work effectively if all those involved are open and transparent. … The Prime Minister, the panel and this committee are all integral to the appointment process for the chair of the BBC, but only Mr. Johnson was fully aware of Mr. Sharp’s potential conflict at the time the appointment was made. The government, and all those involved in the public appointments process must ensure that the future public appointments process is not clouded by partial disclosure.”
The committee’s report further noted that “there remains an unresolved issue about why the Cabinet Secretary believed Mr. Sharp had been giving financial advice to the then Prime Minister, which Mr. Sharp insists that he had not done. The Cabinet Office should clear up the confusion … immediately.”
Concluded the parliamentary committee: “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.”
Its report closed with a suggestion to the BBC chair: “Mr. Sharp should consider the impact his omissions will have on trust in him, the BBC and the public appointments process.”
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