MPs on the UK House of Commons, Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee have confirmed the appointment of Richard Sharp as the new Chair of the BBC Board following his appearance before the Committee.
In a Report, Committee members say they were impressed by Sharp’s understanding of the business, the need to deliver on public service commitments, and to compete globally in a changing media landscape. Initial reservations that for the first time the key roles of Director-General and Chair of the Board would be held by individuals without editorial experience were overcome.
“Richard Sharp impressed the DCMS Committee with his understanding of how the BBC needs to compete and perform while delivering public service value in a changing media world” stated DCMS Committee Chair Julian Knight MP. “We wish him well in the challenges ahead. We have outstanding questions on equal pay at the BBC and it’s a matter of urgency that, as incoming Chair, he gets up to speed with these as quickly as possible and comes back to us with answers.
“We have previously expressed concerns about the way the appointments process was conducted, particularly in the briefing of preferred names at an early stage. We note that our view is shared by the Commissioner for Public Appointments who recognises the damage done and has called for people briefing on or behalf of ministers to keep their views to themselves.”
The Report re-emphasises to Government that the appointments process must not only be fair, but be seen to be fair, citing a lack of candidate diversity as an example. Out of 23 applicants, only two were women and two from a BAME background.
It finds the process of appointing the BBC Chair has not been an “open and orderly affair” with the names of the Government’s preferred candidates leaked to the media at the outset, prompting the Committee at that point to raise concerns with the Secretary of State. Sharp faced strong questions about how he was appointed, the extent of his political connections and political donations.
MPs note their concerns about the process were shared by the Commissioner for Public Appointments who had written to the Chair that “it would be helpful if people briefing on or behalf of ministers kept their views to themselves ahead of appointment competitions”. It is also noted that Sharp was named as BBC Chair in the press hours before an official announcement from Government.
Questioned about equal pay at the BBC, an issue of ongoing examination, MPs report that failed to convince them he had the knowledge he needed to get to grips with the subject immediately.
Sharp will replace the outgoing Chair, Sir David Clementi, who will stand down from his BBC role in February.
Under the terms of the BBC Royal Charter the appointment of the BBC Chair is made by The Queen through Order in Council on the recommendation from ministers (the Secretary of State for Digital Culture, Media and Sport, through the Prime Minister).
Ministers were assisted in their decision-making by an Advisory Assessment Panel which included a departmental official and a senior independent panel member approved by the Commissioner for Public Appointments.
The DCMS Committee scrutinises the work of the BBC. It is also holding a separate inquiry into the Future of Public Service Broadcasting.