Rishi Sunak’s ex-Goldman Sachs boss emerges as next possible BBC chair

Richard Sharp, 64, has longstanding ties with the Conservative party.
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Former Conservative party donor Richard Sharp was appointed as chancellor’s advisor in April

Richard Sharp, 64, has longstanding ties with the Conservative party.
Richard Sharp, 64, has longstanding ties with the Conservative party.

A former Conservative party donor who was Rishi Sunak’s boss at Goldman Sachs has emerged as a contender for the next chairman of the BBC.

Richard Sharp, who in April was appointed as Sunak’s adviser on the government’s coronavirus business loans scheme, is applying for the £160,000-a-year job, according to reports.

The 64-year old has longstanding ties with the Conservatives, including making more than £400,000 in donations in the decade before the party returned to power in 2010.

Sharp, who was Sunak’s boss at Goldman Sachs until the chancellor left the investment bank in 2004, was a member of Boris Johnson’s board of economic advisers when he was mayor of London.

His appointment as a government adviser earlier this year resulted in accusations of a conflict of interest given Sharp’s role as chairman of RoundShield, a firm that lends to distressed businesses and buys assets from them. Sharp moved to take temporary leave from RoundShield while working on the coronavirus business interruption loans scheme, and the company said it would not be a lender to the scheme.

Sharp is also the third largest shareholder in Nottingham based drug testing company Oncimmune, which last month was awarded government funding to develop research tools to aid the development of a Covid-10 vaccine. In May, Sharp stood down from his role as a non-executive director of the company, in which he has a 7% stake, to take up his role advising the government.

He was also embroiled in controversy in 2013 after being “hand-picked” by the then UK chancellor, George Osborne, to join the Bank of England’s financialpolicy committee, which was set up to spot risks in the financial system to help protect the public from another financial crisis, a role he held for six years and that put him at the centre of UK economic policy making.

Weeks after assuring parliament that he would not let his past political connections compromise his independence in the role, it emerged that he attended a Conservative fundraising party.

Sharp, who is also on the board of rightwing thinktank the Centre for Policy Studies, founded by Margaret Thatcher in the 1970s, was also chairman of lobbying and public relations group Huntsworth until 2014. Founded by longtime Tory donor and peer Lord Chadlington, who has advised prime minsters including John Major and David Cameron, is known in the city for its PR firms including Citigate Dewe Rogerson, Grayling and Red.

Sharp’s CV also includes stints as chairman of the Royal Academy of the Arts trust and a director of the International Rescue Committee.

The current BBC chairman, David Clementi, is due to step down in February, and Downing Street is keen to appoint a right-leaning candidate to tackle a perceived left-wing bias at the corporation.

Names that emerged in the press included Charles Moore, the former Daily Telegraph editor with a vehement anti-BBC stance – although he subsequently ruled himself out – and former chancellor George Osborne. Other potential candidates touted include Sir Robbie Gibb, a former BBC politics executive who became Downing Street communications chief, and former Tory culture secretary Lady Morgan of Cotes.

While the BBC chairman has no direct responsibility for programming, the occupier of the position can dismiss its director general, Tim Davie, who took over from Tony Hall in September. The government has been open about its desire to challenge the BBC, and Johnson has the power to push through a candidate that may be unpalatable to the corporation. The final decision is made by the culture secretary, with the approval of Downing Street.

Ministers have bumped up the salary of the four day-a-week role from £100,000 to £160,000 to widen the candidate pool for the role, which was posted online earlier this month. Applications close mid-November with interviews expected in the first week of December.

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