Sir Alan Sugar given go-ahead by BBC

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The Independent Online

Sir Alan Sugar will continue on The Apprentice after the BBC decided his new role as a Government adviser would "not compromise the BBC's impartiality", the corporation said today.

Questions had been raised about whether the entrepreneur's new "enterprise tsar" role could breach the corporation's impartiality rules during the general election campaign.

The 62-year-old, who will take a seat in the House of Lords following Gordon Brown's Cabinet reshuffle earlier this month, said he was "glad" about the decision.

It is understood the BBC reached its decision because it was felt, in his advisory role, Sir Alan was not obliged to endorse or promote Government policy.

The fact that he would not be doing any sort of campaigning while on air was also a key factor in the BBC's decision, and he would not be forced to take the Government whip while in the House of Lords.

Sir Alan said: "I am passionate about business and enterprise and that has always been my motivation for wanting to take on this role.

"I am glad that following detailed discussions, the BBC is satisfied that I will not be doing anything to affect its commitment to impartiality."

Following the reshuffle, the Conservatives wrote to BBC Trust chairman Sir Michael Lyons to express their concerns over Sir Alan's appointment.

Shadow culture secretary Jeremy Hunt said acting as enterprise tsar and presenting The Apprentice on the BBC were "totally incompatible" roles.

In a statement today, the BBC said: "Following detailed discussions with Sir Alan Sugar, the BBC is satisfied that his new role as an Enterprise Champion to the Government will not compromise the BBC's impartiality or his ability to present The Apprentice.

"Sir Alan is not going to be making policy for the Government nor does he have a duty to endorse Government policy.

"Moreover, Sir Alan has agreed that he will suspend all public facing activity relating to this unpaid post in the lead up to and during any shows that he is presenting on the BBC."

If he were offered a peerage, the statement continued, Sir Alan would join other members of the House of Lords who work for the BBC, such as Lord Lloyd-Webber, Lord Bragg and Lord Winston.

The Tories reacted angrily to the announcement.

Mr Hunt said: "This is an outrageous piece of media management by the BBC. Slipping this letter out when the media is focused on MPs' expenses is simply staggering."

The explanation offered in a letter to the Conservatives from BBC director general Mark Thompson was inadequate, he said.

"To make matters worse Mark Thompson's justifications are riddled with inconsistencies," Mr Hunt said.

"Sir Alan won't be able to formulate Government policy, yet is allowed to go to Cabinet meetings to inform debate.

"He won't be put up for interviews by a Government department, yet on the day of the Apprentice final he did two broadcast interviews talking about his new role.

"Far from addressing my concerns this letter shows that the BBC has simply ignored our complaint and hopes we'll let the matter drop."

In his letter to Mr Hunt, Mr Thompson said Sir Alan would not be expected to be on the Government's payroll, nor claim expenses associated with the post.

He would also not be allowed to be put up for interview on behalf of a Government department or in the place of a Government minister, Mr Thompson wrote.

"Sir Alan could not ... play any direct role in formulating Government policy, or occupy a position which obliged him to promote or endorse Government policy," he wrote.

"If Sir Alan is offered a peerage and sits on the Labour benches (in the House of Lords), he will be expected to ensure that any interventions he makes are entirely compatible with his role at the BBC and do not compromise our editorial integrity and impartiality.

"Essentially Sir Alan cannot speak on behalf of the Government in the House of Lords and will have to take care in choosing what topics to address during periods when his BBC programmes are transmitted or about to be transmitted."

The BBC has also asked the multi-millionaire to be careful to ensure there is a clear separation between his on- and off-air roles, Mr Thompson wrote.