Page last updated at 15:14 GMT, Tuesday, 9 June 2009 16:14 UK

BBC 'in talks' over Sir Alan job

Alan Sugar, against a large photo of Schools Secretary Ed Balls and himself
Sir Alan, pictured beside a picture of Ed Balls, says the job is not political

The BBC is in talks over Apprentice star Sir Alan Sugar's new government role but says it is determined its impartiality will remain "sacrosanct".

The Tories say having a government business adviser front a business TV show, is "incompatible" with BBC rules.

BBC editorial policy chief David Jordan said they were "in discussions" with him about the job's "precise nature".

But he said rules applying to news and current affairs programmes were not the same as those for entertainment shows.

Sir Alan was in Gateshead on Tuesday, to meet young people as part of a campaign encouraging more teenagers to take up apprenticeships.

'Nasty question'

He batted away questions about his new role as the government's "enterprise tsar" and told one reporter, who asked if he was just "window dressing" for Gordon Brown's government: "I think that's a rather nasty question, to be honest with you."

Addressing the row on BBC Radio 4's World at One, editorial policy controller Mr Jordan said: "What we are absolutely determined to do is to make sure that the BBC's impartiality is sacrosanct.

FROM THE WORLD AT ONE

"Alan Sugar understands that as well as anybody else ... He is determined to do everything by the book and make sure he didn't breach any of the BBC's editorial guidelines."

He said strict rules stopping BBC presenters expressing personal opinions on public policy matters were for news and current affairs presenters.

The Apprentice was "a factual entertainment programme - it's not even a serious factual programme", he said.

"There's not a lot of relationship between The Apprentice and as it were, business policy.

"In fact I don't think anybody could point to a moment in any of the Apprentice programmes where business policy or government policy or anything relating to it was discussed on the programme."

He pointed out that other peers - Lord Bragg and Lord Lloyd Webber - presented BBC shows and Lord Lloyd Webber had been a big Conservative Party donor.

'Highly partisan'

He said it would not be possible for Sir Alan to be a minister or have a direct role in formulating government policy.

"The programme will go out .. we will discuss with him what he actually is going to do and what kind of role he thinks he is going to perform and then we will advise him on whether or not that is possible."

The Apprentice, which has just finished its fifth series, has been a huge hit for the BBC. The final, screened on Sunday, attracted a peak audience of 10.4 million people.

The Conservatives say that if a general election is held in June 2010 - the latest date Gordon Brown can choose to do so - then next year's show would go out during the election campaign.

They argue that having a government figure on a show which covers the same area he advises ministers on is not compatible with the BBC's rules on impartiality.

Shadow culture secretary Jeremy Hunt, who has written to the BBC Trust and director general Mark Thompson about the issue, told the BBC: "We are very, very concerned about the potential conflict of interest.

"No government minister or someone who's got a key role in formulating government policy has ever had a weekly television programme, one of the most popular of its genre, in the very same area for which they have government responsibilities."

Sir Alan has said he does not see the job as "a political thing" and is not joining the government.

But Mr Hunt said: "The idea that he is politically neutral is a bit of a joke, he has written in the Sun, the Mirror, the News of the World criticising David Cameron and the Conservatives in a highly partisan way."



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EUROPEAN ELECTION RESULTS

MEP Seats

  Votes MEPs
Party % +/- % Total +/-
EPP 33.4 -1.4 264 -18
Socialists 23.2 -4.1 183 -26
Liberal 11.0 +1.6 84 +5
Green 7.4 +1.3 50 +9
Left 5.3 -0.6 34 -2
UEN 3.4 +1.6 28 +2
Ind/Dem 2.7 -1.8 21 -15
No Group 13.6 +3.4 72 +3.4
0 of 27 countries declared.

UK Total MEP Seats

Party Votes MEPs
% +/- % Total +/-
CON 27.7 1.0 *26 1
UKIP 16.5 0.3 13 1
LAB 15.7 -6.9 13 -5
LD 13.7 -1.2 11 1
GRN 8.6 2.4 2 0
BNP 6.2 1.3 2 2
SNP 2.1 0.7 2 0
PC 0.8 -0.1 1 0
OTH 8.5 2.4 0 0
SF 1 0
DUP 1 0
72 of 72 seats declared. Vote share figures exclude Northern Ireland as it has a separate electoral system to the rest of the UK
* Includes UCUNF MEP elected in Northern Ireland
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