Cash for Boris: MPs attack BBC boss in scathing report

The BBC chair is set to face fresh pressure to resign over a “scathing” report by MPs which is expected to lambast his role in an £800,000 loan to Boris Johnson.

All chums together – Owl

Kate Devlin

The Independent has learnt that the powerful Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee will strongly criticise Richard Sharp for his conduct.

It is understood MPs will accuse him of failing to come clean over his part in the arrangement of the loan.

The investigation was launched after it emerged that Mr Sharp, who Mr Johnson backed for the BBC job, was involved.

The report is also set to castigate Mr Sharp for his apparent lack of remorse during a bruising encounter with MPs earlier this week.

Although the committee will not call on him to resign, their findings are thought to be so scathing it will prompt questions about his continued position at the BBC.

Last week Mr Sharp conceded he had acted as a sort of “introduction agency” to help arrange the loan.

In a hearing in front of the committee on Tuesday, he admitted that he had introduced his friend Sam Blyth, a relative of Mr Johnson’s, to the cabinet secretary Simon Case after Mr Blyth suggested he could help with the prime minister’s money issues.

Mr Sharp, a prominent Conservative donor who has given the party more than £400,000, denied he had facilitated the loan for Mr Johnson.

But he did admit he went to see the prime minister to discuss the BBC job before he applied, although he insisted that their relationship had been “broadly professional”.

He said he was trying to ensure that the correct due process was followed when he introduced Mr Blyth to the Cabinet Office and denied that he had offered any personal financial advice to Mr Johnson.

Mr Sharp, a former Goldman Sachs banker, told MPs: “I’ve had a lot of time over the past few weeks to consider whether all the rules were followed and I wish we weren’t where we are now. I acted in good faith and have no regrets in that sense but I clearly could have said to Blyth, ‘Find your own way to Mr Case.’”

He later added that he also regretted causing “embarrassment for the BBC”.

But he insisted that during the process by which he was awarded his current role he had been “subject to a very rigorous interview process” and was hired “on merit”.

But he was accused by Labour MP Kevin Brennan, a member of the committee, of a “monumental failure of judgement” in not telling them about the loan arrangement at a pre-appointment hearing last January.

That session had been before Mr Sharp took over as BBC chairman. But he was hauled in front of the committee again after details of his involvement in Mr Johnson’s loan were reported by the Sunday Times.

Before Tuesday’s hearing the committee’s chairman Damian Green said that MPs wanted to “establish whether … anything we should have known was kept from us”.

Official guidance released by the Department for Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) on conflicts of interest in public appointments warns against even the “perception” of a clash, and says it is therefore essential all potential conflicts are declared.

It reads: “Even the perception of a conflict of interest in relation to a board member can be extremely damaging to the body’s reputation and it is therefore essential that these are declared and explored, in the same way as an actual conflict would be. The fact that a member acted impartially may not avoid accusations of bias.”

The document goes on to warn that it is “necessary for the standing of the individual and the board that members of the public have confidence in their independence and impartiality.”

Public appointments commissioner William Shawcross had been due to investigate Mr Sharp’s appointment as BBC chairman.

However, he has recused himself, saying he had met Mr Sharp “on previous occasions”.

Lawyer Adam Heppinstall KC has now been appointed to lead the investigation.

The BBC is also conducting a probe after Mr Sharp announced that he had referred himself to the nominations committee of the broadcaster’s board.