Public Appointments Commissioner recuses himself from probe into Richard Sharp

Public Appointments Commissioner William Shawcross has recused himself from the investigation into Richard Sharp’s appointment as BBC chairman because he has met Mr Sharp in the past.

Mr Shawcross announced a week ago that he would conduct an inquiry into whether the rules were properly followed, after reports that Mr Sharp helped then-prime minister Boris Johnson secure a loan facility of up to £800,000 shortly before being appointed to the post.

But in a letter to the chair of the Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Committee on Monday, Mr Shawcross wrote: “As I have met Mr Sharp on previous occasions, I have decided to recuse myself from this particular investigation.

William Shawcross
Commissioner for Public Appointments William Shawcross (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

“I will be delegating my powers as commissioner under the 2019 Order in Council to an independent person who will be appointed by my office for this one investigation.

“They will have sole responsibility and will be supported by my officials.”

He added that he will continue with all his other regulatory functions as Commissioner.

Labour’s shadow culture secretary Lucy Powell shared Mr Shawcross’s letter on Twitter, adding: “It’s taken him a week to realise a conflict of interest, sharing these cosy relationships.

“The truth must come out about this appointment.”

Mr Shawcross – who was recommended by Mr Johnson in his role as commissioner for public appointments – is also the father of Eleanor Shawcross, head of No 10’s policy unit.

Mr Sharp is due to be grilled by MPs on the DCMS Committee on February 7 over evidence he gave at a pre-appointment hearing.

The former banker had already been facing calls to stand down after it emerged that, in late 2020, he had introduced Sam Blyth to Cabinet Secretary Simon Case to discuss whether Mr Blyth, a distant cousin of Mr Johnson whom Mr Sharp has known for more than 40 years, could act as a guarantor for a loan facility for the prime minister.

Mr Sharp previously said he will remain in place and that his selection process was done “by the book”.

The Sunday Times reported that Mr Johnson was warned by officials in December 2020 to stop discussing his financial arrangements with Mr Sharp, just days before the latter was announced as the new BBC chairman in January 2021.

The newspaper, citing a leaked Cabinet Office memo, said top civil servant Mr Case told Mr Johnson: “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.”

Mr Johnson reportedly secured the money in February 2021.

A spokesman for the former prime minister has said Mr Sharp has “never given any financial advice to Boris Johnson, nor has Mr Johnson sought any financial advice from him”.