Pressure grows on Rishi Sunak to end political BBC appointments after damning Richard Sharp report

Rishi Sunak is under increasing pressure to end the political appointment of the BBC’s most senior figure, as current boss Richard Sharp comes under growing pressure to quit.

No 10 said that Mr Sharp retains the support of the PM, despite MPs finding the chairman made “significant errors of judgment” by acting as a go-between for a £800,000 loan guarantee for Boris Johnson.

Mr Sunak said on Monday said that he would await the outcome of the inquiry ordered by the Commissioner for Public Appointments, even as Labour and SNP said Mr Sharp’s position is “untenable”.

The PM’s official spokesman, asked by reporters if Mr Sunak still had confidence in the BBC chairman, said “yes”. He added that No 10 was still “confident” in the appointment process which saw Mr Johnson put Mr Sharp in charge of the corporation in 2021.

But senior media figures said the storm was creating a “bad smell” hanging over the BBC, and urged Mr Sunak to take the radical step of ending political patronage of the broadcaster’s top job.

Marcus Ryder, a former BBC executive, said the corporation’s image around the world had been “tainted” by the Sharp saga – urging No 10 to shake up the appointment process.

He told The Independent: “Rishi Sunak should seriously consider the end of the political appointments process and make it truly independent. It’s so important to be able to say it’s a national broadcaster – not a state broadcaster.”

Mr Ryder added: “Mr fear is that if Richard Sharp goes, there is a political storm and that will be the end of the story. If him going leads a new structure then great. But the important thing is that the structure changes.”

Sir Craig Oliver, the former No 10 communications director and ex-editor of the BBC Ten O’ Clock News, told The Independent that the Sharp saga showed that there was “a good case for making sure the next chairman is not a political appointee”.

Roger Mosely, the former head of BBC Television News, told Times Radio: “There should not be political appointments to the chair of the BBC. It’s too important for that. It should stop. The BBC chairman should be unambiguously impartial and independent.”

Former ITN chief executive Stewart Purvis said it was striking that the Sunak government wasn’t “standing up” for the Mr Sharp – saying the credibility of the chairman was now in question.

“The issue is: is Richard Sharp now a credible, impartial chair of the BBC given what’s been revealed? To have a BBC chairman who was involved to the extent he now finally admits he was – it’s a bad look, it’s a bad smell,” he told LBC.

The BBC board is to decide whether it believes Mr Sharp can carry on once the appointments watchdog investigation concludes, The Independent understands. The BBC reported that the corporation’s board was set to hold an unscheduled meeting as soon as Monday.

Tory minister Andrew Mitchell said Mr Sharp’s future was a “matter for the BBC” – but the BBC has made clear the role was always decided by government.

Greg Dyke, former director-general of the BBC, told The Independent that Mr Dyke will “probably be fine” and would likely survive the row if no new information comes to light from the appointment watchdog’s inquiry.

Mr Dyke said Mr Sharp’s future was the responsibility of the government, not the BBC board. He added: “The rest of the BBC board said they were not happy, that would be done informally. But I presume it’s the government’s decision.”

The former director-general, appointed by Tony Blair’s Labour government, also defended political appointees running the broadcaster – saying it helped have some ties to the party in power.

“It’s useful to have someone there with a political background, because they are more able to look after the BBC interests. It gives some cover, some defence when you get into arguments with government,” said Mr Dyke.

Diane Coyle, a former interim chair of the BBC Trust, said there was no straightforward way for other BBC board to sack Mr Sharp, with only No 10 able to force him out. “He can hang on and our prime minister doesn’t seem inclined to ask him to leave in a hurry,” she told The Guardian.

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