Richard Sharp: key inquiry findings on how he was appointed BBC chair

Richard Sharp has resigned as chair of the BBC after an investigation concluded that he broke the rules by failing to declare his link to a secret £800,000 loan made to Boris Johnson, creating a “potential perceived conflict of interest”.

Geneva Abdul 

The inquiry report says Sharp had a discussion with Johnson about applying for the job of BBC chair, shortly before taking part in a supposedly independent interview process where it was made clear that Sharp was Johnson’s preferred candidate.

Here are the other findings of the investigation by Adam Heppinstall KC:

Sharp’s name was leaked before the formal application process had concluded

The investigation cites a news report in the Daily Telegraph mentioning Sharp’s application for the role suggesting he was already the government’s favoured candidate while the job advert was still live.

Both the panel and ministers were “disappointed” by the quality of the applicants for the position of BBC chair, with the investigation concluding other candidates may have discouraged others from coming forward due to the perception that Sharp was being lined up for the role.

Sharp discussed becoming chair with Johnson before applying – even though the PM would have to approve the appointment

Sharp was working as an adviser to the Treasury during the coronavirus pandemic when he told the then prime minister of his intention to apply for BBC job.

Sharp told the inquiry the conversation with Johnson informing him of his intention to apply for the role was similar to that of one with a current “boss”, seeking permission to apply for a new role.

Sharp said he did not consider it a conflict of interest but rather an opportunity for the then prime minister to “persuade him” to stay in his current position. Sharp told the inquiry that in hindsight he should have disclosed this, and that he apologised.

The investigation said: “Whilst it might have been appropriate for Mr Sharp to inform his ‘boss’ of his application particularly in light of Mr Sharp’s work at a time of national emergency, it was also appropriate for him to have informed the panel of the conversation.”

Sharp said any failure to disclose conflict was “inadvertent”. Announcing his resignation on Friday, he said: “I have always maintained the breach was inadvertent and not material, which the facts he lays out substantiate.”

No 10’s support for Sharp was made known to the panel who interviewed candidates

Sharp was interviewed on 11 December 2020, as one of five shortlisted candidates for the position of BBC chair.

The lead interviewer said they knew of Downing Street’s support for Sharp and he was the only candidate whose application was supported by ministers.

Sharp discussed potential personal loan for Johnson while preparing for job interview

Before his interview, Sharp told Johnson of his intention to meet the cabinet secretary and introduce “to him a person who had made a suggestion that he might assist the former prime minister with his personal finances”.

In December, Sharp met the cabinet secretary, Simon Case, in a meeting in which no one else was present. No official minutes were produced.

Following the December meeting, the cabinet secretary commissioned advice to be given to Johnson relating to his private financial affairs.

The advice, given by the deputy cabinet secretary, stated: “Given the imminent announcement of Richard Sharp as the new BBC chair, it is important that you no longer ask his advice about your personal financial matters.”

The inquiry was told the advice was given not to avoid a conflict of interest in the appointment process, but to stop further contact between Sharp and Johnson.

Links between Sharp and Johnson during the interview process could have undermined BBC impartiality

The public could be left with the impression that Sharp was “beholden to the prime minister for his support such that his independence from government was compromised”, the inquiry concluded.

Johnson was the person “who would make the final decision on the recommendation for appointment and also a person from whom Mr Sharp would have to maintain independence if so appointed.”

Being chair of the BBC “fundamentally requires independence” from the government. But having conversations about applying for a job with the prime minister, before applying for the job, “could undermine this independence.”