ADDRESS: Theresa May



SURINDER ARORA has expressed delight that the annual conference of the Confederation of British Industry, the biggest in 10 years, was held last Monday (4) at his landmark new hotel – the O2 InterContinental in Greenwich.

Arora, 59, the chairman of the Arora Group who was accompanied by his 27-year-old son, Sanjay, said: “I’m very proud of my team for bringing the CBI conference to this hotel.”

Surinder Arora

The keynote address was delivered by the prime minister Theresa May, who was personally re­ceived by Arora. May reassured the 1,500 delegates representing over 1,000 businesses not only about Brexit but also spoke to them about the urgent need to curb sexual harassment in the workplace.

The prime minister began with a reference to what she clearly considered was her crucial visit to India in November last year. “Over the last 12 months, I have led trade delegations to India and Japan,” she began. “I am always hugely im­pressed by the businesses and entrepreneurs I take out with me on those visits.”

On the question of sexual harassment, she said: “What has been revealed over the last few weeks has been deeply troubling.” She added: “I have already published a new code of conduct and grievance procedure for the Conservative Party… And later today I will convene a meeting with my fellow party leaders to discuss establish­ing a new common, robust and independent grievance procedure for parliament.

“Of course, people can be friends with their colleagues and consensual relationships can develop at work – what we are talking about is the use and abuse of power. We must stand up for all the victims of abuse, harassment or dis­crimination, wherever it has occurred.”

The conference also heard from the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, the TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady and a galaxy of top corporate leaders. One of the issues discussed at the con­ference was how as a result of AI and robotics, a high proportion of manual and routine engi­neering jobs would disappear in the next 10 years and workers needed to acquire new high-end skills in order to face the future.

One senior executive, who asked not to be quoted by name, said that it was unlikely many overseas companies would want to have their products manufactured in India simply because of the relatively lower cost of labour: “Robotics will take over – Narendra Modi’s ‘Make in India’ is a pipe dream.”

Shehla Hasan

But it appears the Indian prime minister has already adjusted his sights. The CBI has four overseas offices, one of them in India. Its coun­try director for India, Shehla Hasan, had flown in from New Delhi.

During a coffee break she said that “the days of India depending on outsourcing were draw­ing to a close” and the country wanted to col­laborate with the UK in such areas as “AI (artifi­cial intelligence), robotics and data security”. She acknowledged that any Free Trade Agree­ment with the UK could not be signed until it had formally left the European Union.

As for Arora, he explained to Eastern Eye that the luxury O2 InterContinental has 453 bed­rooms, 20 meeting rooms and the cavernous “Arora Ballroom”, said to be “the biggest ban­queting space in Europe without pillars”. It can accommodate up to 3,000 guests and is there­fore especially suitable for Indian weddings.

In the event, the CBI, which has switched its venue from the Grosvenor Hotel in Park Lane, needed only half the Arora Ballroom. Right at the outset of the conference, the CBI’s president, Paul Drechsler, told delegates: “I am thrilled to be at this new venue with its fantastic views of the city of London.” At night the view of Canary Wharf and the adjacent gleaming towers is even more spectacular.

The conference closed with another round of thanks from the CBI’s director general, Carolyn Fairbairn, who warmly endorsed the choice of venue: “Thank you, Surinder – whose hotel this is.”

When Arora first built his hotel, his rivals won­dered whether it was wise to invest so much money on a venue not in the West End. But when it comes to corporate gatherings requiring space, his hotel has already proved a hit with the likes of Mercedes, Audi, HSBC, Barclays and Deutsche Bank. And it is due to host the Railway Ball on November 24 when people working in the UK rail industry will unite for a charitable cause.

Next door to the O2 InterContinental, which was inaugurated by Arora’s close friend, Sir Cliff Richard, is the 24-storey Arora Towers where the apartments are serviced by the hotel. And earlier this year, Arora announced he was making a bid to build the proposed third runway and new terminal at Heathrow.

In the equivalent of the royal families of old forming alliances through marriage, Arora’s daughter Sonia is married to fellow hotelier Jas­minder Singh’s son, Inderneel, heir apparent in the Edwardian group. But the couple had a love marriage after dating for several years.