Former BBC chief calls on government to “review” public nomination process

A former BBC chief executive has called on the government to “review” its public nomination process following the resignation of BBC chairman Richard Sharp.

Mr Sharp has resigned after an inquiry by Adam Heppinstall KC found he had breached rules on public nominations by not declaring his connection to an £800,000 loan made to Boris Johnson.

The inquiry also found that Mr Johnson, as prime minister, had personally approved Mr Sharp’s appointment and that people managing the recruitment process had been informed that he was the only candidate the government would support.

Former BBC director-general Lord Birt told the House of Lords the report was “shocking” and called on the government to address the flaws in its process.

The crossbench independent fellow said: “This episode will do no harm to the BBC – it’s been about 100 years, it’s a wonderful institution, it will quickly overcome this sad affair.

“The damage that has been done is to the government’s own process of making public appointments and the Heppinstall report is truly shocking reading.

“Will the government now review the process for making public appointments?”

Lord Vaizey of Didcot, a Conservative former minister in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), said he believed Sharp was an “excellent BBC chairman” who “was treated extremely harshly”, condemning a decision now withdrawn cartoon in The Guardian, which has been labeled anti-Semitic.

However, the Times Radio presenter agreed that “one of the things that is very clear from this report and something we all knew at the time is who the government’s favorite candidate was for the position.

“And I think that does the Government a disservice because it prevents excellent candidates from standing up and giving the Government a real choice.

“The minister needs to know that the government should have a much more open process with the nomination for the next BBC presidency.”

BBC President's Mail

Richard Sharp (Archive/PA)

Former political adviser to Number 10 Lord McNally told colleagues Downing Street’s attempt to interfere with public appointments is nothing new.

The current Liberal Democrat peer was appointed head of the Prime Minister’s Policy Bureau at Downing Street when James Callaghan succeeded Harold Wilson in 1976.

He said: “Nothing the minister has said so far can give us any assurance that the process will still not be affected by 10 Downing Street.

“And so it is now absolutely imperative that a selection system be produced which makes it clear that whoever is the incumbent of number 10, they will not have improper or undue influence on this appointment.

“I say this as someone who once headed the policy bureau at number 10, so I know how, under successive governments, there is a desire to interfere.

“And government now has the opportunity to create a really transparent open system, but it also needs to have the will to do it.”

DCMS minister Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay replied that there were “a few lessons” to be drawn from the report.

He said: “The report of Mr. Heppinstall concluded that the DCMS general officers conducted a good and thorough process.

“There are some lessons from his report and we will consider the findings carefully and respond in due course.”

He added: “The process for appointing the Chairman of the BBC is set out in the Royal Charter of the BBC.

“Requires an appointment by the Order to the Council following a fair and open competition; by convention, the Under Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport proposes the nomination to the Lord President of the Council and the Prime Minister who proposes the nomination to HM The King.

“It is important that the process is followed and that all public appointments are made and followed in accordance with government code.”

The minister added that he agreed with Lord Vaizey on Sharp’s “brilliant work” at the BBC, and called the Guardian cartoon “deplorable”.

He went on to acknowledge: “Adam Heppinstall’s report rightly underlines the impact that publishing candidates’ names in the media can have on the public nomination process, we echo the concerns he raised there.

“The process to appoint a new permanent president will be run robustly, fairly and openly in accordance with government code.”

Former Chancellor of the Exchequer Lord Clarke of Nottingham added that the process should be modified to ensure that those involved in making recommendations or eventual choice for the presidency of the BBC must ensure that potential conflicts of interest are disclosed to They.

However, Lord Parkinson replied that Mr Heppinstall’s report makes it clear that the governance code places an obligation to make the statement about the candidate.

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