'No conflict of interest' over Sugar government job

Culture Secretary Ben Bradshaw today denied there was a conflict of interest in Sir Alan Sugar taking up a Government role in promoting enterprise and presenting The Apprentice show on television.

Shadow culture, media and sport secretary Jeremy Hunt questioned how Sir Alan could combine the two jobs after his appointment in Gordon Brown's emergency reshuffle on Friday.

But Mr Bradshaw, a former BBC reporter and presenter, said that on the "face of it" he saw no conflict of interest, adding it was a matter for the BBC.

Raising the issue at Commons question time, Mr Hunt asked: "Do you believe that Sir Alan Sugar can combine his role as host of Britain's most popular business TV programme with his new job as the Government's enterprise champion, where he will sit in the House of Lords taking the Labour whip?"

Mr Bradshaw, who became culture secretary in the reshuffle, replacing Andy Burnham, said Mr Hunt had written to the BBC Trust raising his "concerns," adding: "I'll be interested to see a copy of the reply you get."

To Tory jeers, he added: "On the face of it, I don't see there is a conflict of interest here.

"From my memory of the BBC producer guidelines they were very clear about people who were involved in political programming not doing political jobs.

"But I seem to recall Ken Clarke (shadow business secretary) presenting a jazz programme in the past and there was no suggestion there was a conflict of interest there.

"However, this is a matter for the BBC. Sir Alan has discussed this, as I understand it, before the decision was taken, with the BBC. He is not being paid. All of his business interests are being put at arms' length. We'll have to see how the Trust responds to you."

Mr Hunt said: "Can I urge you to look at this closely. This is something quite unprecedented where someone has their own weekly TV programme at the same time as being one of the main ambassadors for Government policy in precisely the same area.

"If there is an election in June 2010, according to the current schedules, The Apprentice will be being shown during the General Election campaign.

"In that period would it be right for the BBC to carry on screening The Apprentice when its main star is a principal advocate of Government business policy?"

To further Tory protests, Mr Bradshaw replied: "These are matters for the BBC.

"I'm prepared to criticise the BBC where I think they have made a mistake...

"But this is an issue for the BBC. You have written to them and I'll be interested to see how they respond."

Labour former Europe minister Denis MacShane called earlier, to loud Tory cheers, for the BBC to be "subject to the full rigour" of the Freedom of Information Act, so MPs and the public could know "everything" about the pay and allowances for top presenters.

Mr Bradshaw told him: "As a co-former BBC employee I share your admiration for the BBC.

"The question is, of course, one for the BBC.

"But I would like to reassure you that I believe we live in an era now where the public, if they pay for something through either their taxes or a licence fee, do expect transparency and accountability in how that money is spent - and I think they're right to have that expectation."

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