LONDON — Richard Sharp, a former Goldman Sachs banker and adviser to the British government, is expected to be named the next chairman of the BBC, to lead the public broadcaster through a critical period as its purpose, funding and sustainability are reviewed.
Mr. Sharp will take the helm at the broadcaster amid long-running complaints by the governing Conservative Party over its coverage and the mandatory license fees paid by households to finance it. The BBC reported on Mr. Sharp’s appointment after an initial report by Sky News. An official announcement is expected in coming days.
The future of the annual license fee paid by listeners and viewers (157.50 pounds, or about $214) will be one of Mr. Sharp’s most pressing issues, as he takes on negotiations with the government about the size of the fee from 2022 to 2027.
He has not taken public stands on the fee or on how to ensure the broadcaster’s financial viability as more viewers turn to streaming services. But his connections to the party may help smooth the negotiating process. Mr. Sharp, 64, donated more than £400,000 ($542,000) to the Conservative Party between 2001 and 2010, according to public records.
“The chairman’s role is, at some level, primarily to be the core interlocutor if there are problems with the government,” said Claire Enders, the founder of the London-based media research firm Enders Analysis. “A chairman who is not politically plugged in is not a chair that is ultimately going to be able to be that supportive and helpful to the BBC.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson, whose government is naming Mr. Sharp, has questioned the justification for the license fee, which contributed £3.7 billion to the BBC in 2019, accounting for about three-quarters of its income. Mr. Johnson made himself one of the broadcaster’s biggest critics after winning the last election in late 2019, refusing to sit for some interviews and reportedly barring his cabinet ministers from appearing on other programs for a time.
Early last year, the Conservative government pushed forward a proposal to decriminalize the nonpayment of the license fee, a move that has been shelved during the search for new leadership at the BBC as the terms of its two top chiefs came to an end.
In September, a new director-general was installed: Tim Davie, a former Conservative local council candidate who has been at the broadcaster since 2005.
The government’s criticism of the BBC has quieted in recent months. To many, Mr. Sharp’s appointment will be counted as a relief compared with another contender for the job: Charles Moore, a former editor of conservative newspaper The Daily Telegraph and a staunch critic of the BBC, who landed in court a decade ago over his refusal to pay the license fee. Mr. Moore reportedly pulled himself out of the running.
Mr. Sharp will take over from David Clementi, whose four-year term ends next month. Many older Britons will remember Mr. Clementi as the chairman who, last summer, ended free TV licenses for most people over 75. He argued it was necessary to charge older viewers to make up for the lost money without cutting more programs and services.
As it is, the organization has been slashing jobs as part of a 2016 plan to save £800 million. Last year, it announced 520 job losses at BBC News, and another 600 job cuts from regional services in England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.
Mr. Sharp and Mr. Davie will play critical roles as the BBC’s charter, which sets out its mission and public purpose, comes up for an interim review in the next couple of years and a complete renewal in 2027.
Mr. Sharp, who spent more than two decades at Goldman Sachs until 2007 and was a member of the Bank of England’s Financial Policy Committee from 2013 until 2019, has reportedly been advising one of his former employees at Goldman, Rishi Sunak, the chancellor of the Exchequer.
The BBC faces three key challenges, according to Rasmus Kleis Nielsen, the director of the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism: how to reach a younger audience and shore up its future commercial success; how to quell concerns that it is not diverse, both politically and ethnically; and, a particular task for the chairman, how to ensure its future independence.
“The BBC is and remains a political creation, and a precondition of its existence is that the BBC manages to convince not just the public, but also politicians, that it is in fact delivering on its role and remit, and that it should maintain its independence,” Mr. Nielsen said.