The Conservative leadership hopeful Esther McVey has spent thousands of pounds of taxpayers??? money claiming for a personal photographer on expenses.
The MP has submitted claims worth ??8,750 for the services of the photographer and PR man Jonathan Farber in just two years, according to an analysis of data held by the expenses watchdog. McVey ??? whose website is adorned with photographs of herself ??? hired Farber, an ex-Tory councillor in her constituency in Cheshire.
One receipt obtained using freedom of information laws from May 2018 shows that Farber invoiced McVey ??750 for five hours??? work for two shoots including ???edits, image processing and travel time???.
One of the shoots featured McVey, who was a broadcaster and businesswoman before entering politics, showing her support for paddle boarders joining the fight against plastic waste. The other was for a Women???s Institute shoot and talk. The invoice is from ???Jonathan Farber photo, video & consultancy???, and states McVey is being billed for ???comms consultancy???, adding: ???Fixed rate retained professional photo, video and communications services.???
McVey, who takes home an annual salary of ??79,468 as an MP, says she is standing in the Tory leadership race as a ???public servant???, but is an underdog, with only a handful of MPs publicly backing her campaign.
McVey???s expense claims could prove controversial with her colleagues. In 2018-19, she claimed ??6,000 for Farber???s services, and ??2,750 in 2017-18. In total, McVey has submitted claims for Farber???s services on 13 occasions, the majority of which describe his work as ???comms??? or ???consultancy???.
All of the claims were approved by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa), which said: ???Communication is a large part of an MP???s role and they are able to claim professional services to support them carrying out their duties. This could include photography to be used on their website and other digital and print communication channels.???
Although some other MPs have claimed for professional photography, most have done so for significantly smaller amounts than the sums McVey has disbursed.
On his LinkedIn page, Farber says he does ???visual communications??? for McVey. He was a town councillor in Knutsford from 2015 to May 2019. His website states that he charges ??125 an hour for private photography and ??175 for ???commercial press/PR photography???.
In March last year, Farber???s PR firm, WA16, posted a picture of the MP on social media, adding: ???A gritty press shoot here with Rt Hon Esther McVey MP with @highwaysengland just hours before the snow began to fall.???
In February 2018, the account posted another picture of McVey standing with a group outside Alderley BioHub, which houses laboratories, in her Tatton constituency.
McVey???s leadership bid centres around her belief in what she describes as ???blue collar conservatism???, which champions ???working people???. As a minister in the Department for Work and Pensions in 2013, she said during a debate on the rising use of food banks: ???It is positive; people are reaching out to support others in church groups, community groups, local supermarkets and other groups.
???In the UK, it is right to say that more people are visiting food banks, as we would expect ??? Times are tough and we all have to pay back the ??1.5tn of personal debt, which spiralled under Labour. We are all trying to live within our means, change the gear, and ensure we are paying back all the debt that we saw under Labour.???
She has been criticised during the leadership contest for repeatedly stating that parents should be allowed to take primary-aged children out of lessons on same-sex relationships. It came after controversy over protesters, including parents, demonstrating outside the gates of a Birmingham primary school against LGBT teaching.
The 51-year-old served as the MP for Wirral West from 2010 to 2015 before losing her seat. She was re-elected in the former chancellor George Osborne???s old constituency, Tatton, in 2017.
Asked about her expense claims, McVey told the Guardian: ???It is all about constituency matters. Linking and communicating with my nearly 80,000 residents is the job of an MP, and that???s what I do. In a modern era you have to reach out and communicate with all ages and I do that by writing letters, organising meetings or visits and through video and photos.
???It???s about raising awareness of key local matters in the constituency such as bus services or plastic pollution and the environment, as you rightly mention, but there are all manner of issues we deal with. These issues impact all my residents, youth and community groups, businesses and charities, and I communicate with them all in various ways. This is totally within the Ipsa rules and regulations and has been declared openly.???
Farber did not respond to a request for comment.