Richard Sharp resigned as BBC chairman today after admitting breaches of the governing code of public appointments.
Mr Sharp announced that he will step down at the end of June to avoid being a ‘distraction’ to the company following an assessment by Adam Heppinstall KC in his appointment.
The inquiry was ordered after it emerged he played a role in facilitating an £800,000 loan guarantee for then Prime Minister Boris Johnson before being recommended for the role overseeing the independence of the public broadcaster.
The report revealed that Mr Sharp, who was acting as an adviser to No10, had told Mr Johnson that he wanted to become BBC chairman before applying in November 2020.
He also apologized for not telling the appointments panel that he had spoken to the cabinet secretary and offered to give an introduction to Sam Blyth, a distant cousin of Mr Johnson, who had suggested they could’ help’ with the Prime Minister’s ‘personal finances’.
The investigation found that both cases amounted to a violation of the Governance Code, but Mr. Sharp’s insistence that errors were ‘unintentional’ was not challenged.
Richard Sharp has stepped down as BBC chairman and will leave at the end of June
The inquiry identified two cases amounting to a breach of the Governance Code, but did not challenge Mr Sharp’s claim that errors were ‘unintentional’
Mr. Heppinstall said he disagreed with Mr. Sharp’s assessment that notifying Mr. Johnson of his intention to run for the presidency did not amount to a conflict of interest.
“It may have been a reasonable conversation in the context of Mr Sharp’s role as Special Adviser, but failure to disclose it to the panel amounts to a failure to disclose a potential alleged conflict of interest,” the attorney wrote. in his report.
‘There was a risk that the public might take the view that Mr Sharp informed the Prime Minister of his application because he wanted him to make a recommendation to appoint him.
“They might also note that he put himself in a position where, if appointed, he would be beholden to the prime minister for his support, so that his independence from the government was compromised.”
In a statement, Mr Sharp – an ally of Rishi Sunak who was his boss when they both worked at Goldman Sachs – said: “Mr Heppinstall believes that while I have violated the Code of Governance for Public Appointments, he maintains that a breach is not necessarily void an appointment.
“Indeed, I have always maintained that the breach was inadvertent and not material, which the facts he sets out bear out. The Secretary of State has consulted the BBC Council, which supports this view.
“However, I have decided that it is right to put the interests of the BBC first.
“I feel that this matter could be a distraction to the good work of the Corporation if I were to remain in office until the end of my term.
“That is why I resigned this morning as BBC chairman of the secretary of state and of the board of directors.”
Many of his own associates believed that the controversial circumstances surrounding his appointment made it impossible for him to continue.
Mr Sharp has denied any involvement in helping to arrange a loan.
As a result of the controversy, the Office of the Commissioner of Public Appointments has appointed Mr Heppinstall to investigate the nomination process that led to Mr Sharp being awarded the top job.
Mr Sharp said today: ‘During my meeting with the Cabinet Secretary on 4 December 2020, I reminded him that I was in the BBC’s appointment process.
“I believed, as a result of that conversation, that I was removed from any conflict or perception of conflict.
“I understood that this refusal was absolute. This was my mistake.
“In my subsequent interview with the Nomination Panel, I would like to say, in retrospect, that I had considered mentioning this potential alleged conflict of interest.
“I would like to apologize again for that oversight – however unintentional – and for the distraction these events have caused the BBC.”
Mr Sharp said he will remain in the position until the end of June while the search for a successor takes place.
He said: ‘I have been proposed to stay on as chairman until the end of June while the process of appointing my successor continues, and I will of course do so in the interest of the stability and continuity of the company.
“When I attempted to introduce the Cabinet Secretary to Mr Blyth in December 2020, I did so in good faith. I did that with the best of intentions.
“I did this for the sole purpose of ensuring that all relevant rules were followed. I am pleased that Mr. Heppinstall agrees that my involvement in these matters was therefore ‘very limited’.
He says he is ‘happy to record’ that he has seen no evidence – nor could he – to say that I played any part in facilitating, arranging or financing a loan for the former Prime Minister. ‘
“For more than two years I have seen the beating heart of the BBC up close,” Sharp said in a statement.
‘For all its complexities, successes and occasional failures, the BBC is an incredible, dynamic and leading creative force, unparalleled anywhere. As Chairman, I have at all times acted in the public interest and for the betterment of the BBC.
“I am proud to have fought for the recent return of government funding to the World Service. I have been active in commissioning independent thematic reviews of BBC coverage of touchstone issues. And I have defended the BBC’s importance as a well-funded and impartial public service broadcaster.
“It has been an honor to be president of this incredible organization. The BBC’s contribution to our national life is huge, the people are hardworking and brilliant, and preserving and improving it is important.’