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Latest 16 March 2023

REVEALED: Tory donor’s firm lobbied health minister two weeks before landing controversial hotel quarantine contract

Alex Ramsay / Alamy Stock Photo

A company founded and chaired by a Conservative Party donor, the Arora Group, was awarded a lucrative contract by the Government to accommodate travellers having to quarantine during the pandemic – just two weeks after lobbying health minister, Lord Bethell. Surinder Arora, the founder and Chair, was also a member of the Conservative Party’s Business Advisory Group.

The hotel quarantine programme was both contentious and wasteful. The National Audit Office found that the scheme cost £757m, nearly double the predicted £428 million. And the scheme was expensive for people using it – a family of two adults and a child would pay £367 per night for 11 nights.

The emails, obtained via Freedom of Information requests, show Lord Bethell thanking representatives from the Arora Group on 01 February 2021 and subsequently promoting them to Tim Byford, commercial director of the Government’s Test & Trace programme. 

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Lord Bethell said in the email: “Can I please hand you over to [Redacted] and Tim Byford who are running this procurement and who are excellent senior officials who are driving this project very well indeed.”

Bethell also remarked “Tim, [Redacted], I was struck by the arrangements that AG have for (1) pooling hotels accommodation from many hotel groups for the airlines, and (2) the end-to-end solution [Redacted] has designed.”

Just two weeks after Bethell’s referral, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) selected Arora Group for quarantine contracts. The firm noted in its annual accounts, published on Companies House, that it had been “chosen and contracted by the DHSC as a designated quarantine hotel for travelers returning from red list countries from the middle of February 2021.”

Surinder Arora has close ties to the Conservative Party – as well as being a party donor, his firm appointed the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, to be chairman of Arora’s advisory board in 2021. Arora Group is owned by a secretive Jersey trust called the Arora Family Trust No. 2. 

Arora was engulfed in a lobbying row that same year when it was discovered the former Home Secretary, Priti Patel, held a secret meeting with Surinder Arora at a hotel owned by the Arora Group – without any officials present. 

Leaked WhatsApp messages showed the former Health Secretary, Matt Hancock and the Cabinet Secretary, Simon Case, mocking users of the hotels scheme and boasted about travelers being “locked up” in “shoe box” rooms.

Good Law Project approached the Arora Group and the DHSC for comment.

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