Dictionary staff spell out case for keeping Capital base open

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STAFF at the company which publishes Chambers Dictionary are fighting to keep the iconic name in the Capital.

Publishing giant Hachette UK announced last week it planned to close the Chambers Harrap headquarters in Edinburgh's Hopetoun Crescent, with the loss of all 27 jobs.

The Chambers side of the business would be transferred to London and the Harrap operation, which publishes French-English dictionaries and other language reference works, would be switched to Paris.

But union leaders and politicians are urging the company to consider other options which would save the jobs and preserve the publisher's historic links with Edinburgh.

Hachette blamed the closure move on the rise of the internet leading to a decline in sales of dictionaries.

But today Edinburgh North & Leith Labour MSP Malcolm Chisholm said the digital revolution could offer new opportunities for the company.

And the National Union of Journalists said Hachette had failed to put resources into exploring that potential.

Mr Chisholm said: "It is a rather simplistic case the company has put. It is blaming the internet, as if there are no sales of the dictionaries, but they are still maintaining them, just switching the work elsewhere."

Chambers was established in 1819 by brothers William and Robert Chambers, who published their first dictionary in 1867. Chambers Street in Edinburgh is named after younger brother William, who served twice as the city's Lord Provost.

Mr Chisholm was today meeting finance secretary John Swinney to urge him to press Hachette to think again about its plans.

"There is a strong feeling this closure is unnecessary," he said.

"People feel all the options have not been looked at."

Liam Rodger, NUJ representative at the Chambers Harrap office, said the company could look at the wider opportunities offered by the internet.

"We have not been given the resources to exploit that fully.

"If there was an attempt to put the resources into that, we don't see why we couldn't continue to publish both lists from Edinburgh.

"The editors with the expertise are here and the people who know how to publish the texts, whether digitally or on paper, are here."

Half the Edinburgh workforce is made up of editors working on the dictionaries and the rest includes production, sales, marketing and IT staff. Some have been at the company for 20 years or more.

Mr Rodger said: "The French dictionary is a market leader in France and Chambers Dictionary is a favourite here, especially with crossword fans.

"What will happen to the quality if all the people who have worked on these titles for many years are scattered to the four winds must be a real concern."

He said although the company said it had looked for buyers for the Chambers side of the business, the search had not been very wide.

"We would like Hachette to consider all the options – including keeping the company together or if they feel it's not viable in their hands, looking for a buyer for the company as it stands."

The company said it was making no comment beyond its original closure statement.