The Heppinstall report into Richard Sharp’s appointment as BBC chair raised questions about possible reforms and has sparked calls for more far-reaching changes. Peter Riddell surveys such proposals, arguing that the merits of different options need to be carefully weighed.
The long-awaited report by Adam Heppinstall KC into the appointment of Richard Sharp as BBC chair has not only led to Sharp’s resignation, but also triggered a debate about changing how public appointments are made to reduce or eliminate the role of the Prime Minister. This links with many of the themes I discussed in my inaugural lecture at UCL on 26 April.
Having been Commissioner for Public Appointments at the time of Sharp’s appointment, I welcomed the setting up of the Heppinstall inquiry following the disclosure in January that Sharp had been involved – on his own account in a very limited way – in previously secret discussions about arranging financial support for Boris Johnson, the then Prime Minister, in autumn 2020 at the same time as he was applying to become BBC chair.
Heppinstall concluded that the original appointment process had been ‘good and thorough’ but that Sharp had breached the government’s Governance Code for Public Appointments by not disclosing to the advisory interview panel that he had met Johnson to inform him of his application and that he was going to meet Simon Case, the Cabinet Secretary, to attempt to introduce him to someone (Sam Blyth, a distant cousin of Johnson) who might assist the Prime Minister with his personal finances. This created a potential conflict of interest and the risk of a perception that Sharp would not be independent from Johnson. The Sharp/Case meeting – and differences about what was said and recorded – has attracted considerable attention but is largely irrelevant, since Case never met nor contacted Blyth.Continue reading