Bedford Borough Council have dismissed claims made on a local public Facebook group that Bedford Central Library is being sold to make way for residential and commercial development.
The post, which caused panic amongst some members of the group, claimed there was a “rumour” the library in Harpur Square would “permanently close in about two weeks.”
The post then went on to claim “the building is being sold along with the former Beales site as mixed residential/commercial redevelopment.”
Adding their own opinion to the rumour the person posting added: “Watch this space because if true, I guarantee they’ll make some bulls***e excuse as to why they’ve permanently closed the library. No doubt due to “Tory cuts” to council funds.
“Anything to hide the truth that a development company wants the entire plot for redevelopment, and as such has bought the library from the council for a tidy sum.”
Cllr Henry Vann (Lib Dem) who is portfolio holder for town centres and planning quickly jumped in to dismiss the rumours replying, “this is not true”.
However, a further comment suggested, “…secrecy prior to a deal being signed is paramount. Especially if a building is being sold by secret bid. Just saying.”
While there may not always be a consultation to decide if a public asset is sold, it will have to be agreed by Bedford Borough Council’s Exec committee in a public meeting.
The Council’s Executive is made up of four Lib Dems and three Labour councillors and one Independent councillor.
If the sale of a local Library was to appear in the minutes of forthcoming council exec meeting, then it would most certainly be covered in this and other local publications.
What’s more, as one person commented, “…it’d be career suicide for anyone involved.”
A council’s statutory duty
While the sale of property may not necessarily be discussed during public consultation, Bedford Borough Council have a legal requirement to consult local people on its library provisions.
The ‘Libraries as a Statutory Service‘ guidance issued by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport states:
“Every council in England is required to provide a ‘comprehensive and efficient’ library service under the Act [Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964].
“It must do so in a way which meets the needs of local library users taking into account the resources available…
“It is therefore the role of councillors and officials at a local level to determine how much they spend on libraries and how they manage and deliver their service.”
The Central Government guidance then goes on to say this must be done:
- in consultation with their communities
- through analysis of evidence around local needs
- in accordance with their statutory duties
However, it does say libraries are not a national service, so local councils will decide how they are operated.
But decisions must be made in the interest of all local people against “the background of their [council’s] legal requirements,” adds the guidance.
To reiterate the point, Cllr Doug McMurdo (Independent), Portfolio Holder for Leisure and Culture said: “Bedford Borough Council has no plans to permanently close or sell any part of Bedford Central Library.”
Don’t believe everything you read on a local facebook group
While the rumour has been quickly debunked, it has called into question the need for Facebook group admins to take a more active role in preventing the spread of fake news.
The rumour was posted in a local Facebook group which states in its description, “”Political correctness” is NOT a requirement! “Free speech” is encouraged! “Conspiracy theories” are welcome!”
In response to the posting of the conspiracy, Cllr Vann said: “Obviously people should be careful about what they read online.
“I would like to thank Bedford Independent for taking the time to check this and local residents who asked for me to clarify the situation.”