Rishi Sunak may have breached the ministerial code over a photograph used to promote the Conservative Party conference, Labour has said.
Shadow Cabinet Office minister Jonathan Ashworth said the Prime Minister has “questions to answer over propriety” as the photo used as the front page of the Tory Party agenda appears to have been taken by a “taxpayer-funded Downing Street civil servant”.
The agenda for the event was published earlier this week and the cover features a picture of Mr Sunak sitting on a bench with the slogan: “Long-term decisions for a brighter future.”
It was captured during the Prime Minister’s visit to San Diego in March, where he made the announcement of the Aukus defence partnership with the United States and Australia aboard the decommissioned aircraft carrier USS Midway.
The photo can be found by the No 10 Flickr account and is credited to Simon Walker, the chief photographer to the Prime Minister, who is paid by the taxpayer.
According to article 6.3 of the ministerial code, official facilities and resources may not be used for the dissemination of material that is essentially party political.
Mr Ashworth said: “Once again jet-setting Rishi Sunak has questions to answer over propriety. A photo that appears to have been taken by a taxpayer-funded Downing Street civil servant is being used to promote Conservative conference.
“The Tories have grown used to spending the taxpayer’s pound as if it was their own.
“This time it seems the Prime Minister may have breached the ministerial code. He must urgently explain what has happened here, and whether he thinks it’s acceptable to misuse government resources as it looks like he has done.”
A Conservative Party spokesman said: “This photograph is in the public domain and is available for use by any organisation so there is no additional cost to the taxpayer.
“It is alarming that someone who aspires to be the Paymaster General cannot grasp this fact.”
Controversy over taxpayer-funded “vanity photographers” had already emerged under former Tory prime minister Boris Johnson.
Questions were raised regarding the cost-effectiveness of the three photographers and whether they delivered value for taxpayers’ money, given they chronicled the work and life of the Prime Minister, Cabinet members and even the PM’s pets.
Responding to a question on the matter in the Commons in 2022, former Cabinet Office minister Nigel Adams said: “It has been the case under successive Governments that civil servants and special advisers provide assistance on communications.
“We employ photographers to capture Government work, including that which cannot be captured by a press photographer due to its sensitive nature.
“Photographers are a cross-Government resource, supporting other Departments and Ministers, and play a critical role in the support of the Government’s digital communications activity and in progressing key policy areas.”