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Next BBC Chair Faces Tougher Scrutiny Over Conflicts Of Interest

Candidates for the top job at the BBC will be subject to greater scrutiny than ever in an effort to avoid a repeat of the conflict of interest row that led to its chair Richard Sharp resigning in April, the Observer has learned.

Sharp left after failing to declare a connection to a secret £800,000 loan for ex-prime minister Boris Johnson.

The deadline for applicants to replace Sharp in the £160,000-a-year post passed last Monday — with headhunter Saxton Bampfylde appointed to make the process more open following criticism from the commissioner for public appointments.

In an information pack seen by the Observer, candidates are asked to provide not only “interests that might be relevant to the work of the BBC” but also ones that “could lead to a real or perceived conflict of interest”.

Candidates are asked to “reflect on any public statements you have made, including through social media” and are told there will be “searches of previous public statements and social media [and] blogs”.

One source said the guidance puts the “responsibility” firmly on candidates to declare fully anything they think could be a conflict of interest — a nod to Sharp’s resignation statement, which said he had made an “inadvertent” error over a “potential perceived conflict of interest”.

The commissioner’s report into Sharp criticised not only parts of his appointment process in 2021 but also press leaks that he was ministers’ preferred candidate — which the commissioner said “may well have discouraged people from applying”.

The perception Sharp was a shoo-in and the fact ministers chose not to use headhunters fuelled fears that the process was neither fair nor open.

This time a search firm has approached leading figures including, it is understood, Snap chair and Channel 4 non-executive director Michael Lynton, BBC acting chair Dame Elan Closs Stephens, former Tory MP and ex-culture minister Lord Vaizey, FA Women’s Super League chair and C4 non-executive Dawn Airey and Arts Council chair and BBC senior independent director Sir Nicholas Serota.

However, it is not known how many have actually applied for the job. Some have been put off from applying as many people in TV think that, despite the extra scrutiny, a Tory ally will still be appointed. Sharp had been a Conservative party donor and was prime minister Rishi Sunak’s boss at Goldman Sachs.

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A longlist of candidates will be sifted on 5 October, with interviews expected to end on 10 November.Whoever becomes the next BBC chair will face challenges during their four-year term. The broadcaster faces internal investigations into Freddie Flintoff’s Top Gear crash, suspended presenter Huw Edwards and former presenters Russell Brand and Tim Westwood, along with a review of social media guidelines sparked by Gary Lineker’s tweets.

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport said: “The BBC Charter sets out how the chair will be appointed. This will be a fair and open process run in accordance with the Governance Code for Public Appointments.”

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