Council slammed over £72K tax relief for Bedford Airlander firm

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A decision by Bedford’s mayor to award £72,000 tax relief to the highly profitable company behind the Airlander has been branded as “bizarre”.

Last month mayor Dave Hodgson agreed to reduce the business rates of Hybrid Air Vehicles for the period between 2015 and 2017 on the grounds of “hardship”, say Bedford Conservatives.

Yet company accounts show HAV paid directors and senior staff £1.2m during 2017 - and it still recorded a bumper profit of £2.3m.

The company also received a massive £20m insurance payout for the Airlander 10 prototype, which broke free of its tether and crashed. A further £5m plus came during the same period from grants.

Tory councillor Gianni Carofana said: “It is bizarre for the mayor to use taxpayers’ money for the benefit of a private company which has paid it directors handsomely when he tells us at every opportunity of the council’s precarious financial position.

“If we had the resources to provide tax relief then we should be supporting our town centre which is under huge pressure – as shown with Marks & Spencer.”

Last week HAV, which has from Cardington to Ampthill Road, announced plans to launch and sell commercial Airlanders by 2020.

Councillor Carofana said: “Airlander 10 is a unique project with a lot of potential. Despite this, Hybrid Air Vehicles Ltd cannot be said to be facing ‘hardship’.”

An HAV spokesman said: “Since 2007, Hybrid Air Vehicles has spent more than £113m in developing Airlander in Bedford. We employ over 65 people in high-tech aerospace industry jobs in the borough.

“We are proud to be a member of this community and to have played a role in the regeneration of the Cardington Hangars during the period for which Bedford Borough Council have, in line with their policies, provided partial rates relief. We are extremely grateful for the support of our local authorities and other stakeholders as we continue to grow our business with the aim of bringing 400 aerospace jobs to Bedfordshire.”

Lib Dem finance lead councillor Michael Headley accused the Tories of attacking a local enterprise for political purposes.

He said the rate relief for HAV was “modest” for a company that is helping put Bedford Borough on the map globally.