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European colleagues stand up for Scottish Chambers workers 

9 October 2009

A high-level meeting of the staff representative body of Lagardère in Paris is to review the proposed closure of Edinburgh publishers Chambers Harrap. The closure was announced by parent company Hachette UK, part of multinational Lagardère, last month.

The European Works Council (EWC) of the Lagardère group has requested that the threatened redundancies be postponed until the end of the year while an independent financial study is undertaken into the case for maintaining some or all of the Chambers Harrap operation in Edinburgh.

The development comes amid growing concern about the consequences of the proposed closure for the future of publishing in Scotland. All 27 jobs on the site are threatened by the proposed closure, which would end 190 years of publishing history in Edinburgh.

Chambers flagship title, The Chambers Dictionary, has long been a favourite of crossword puzzlers and has been described by author Philip Pullman as:

"the most human of dictionaries, the most quirky and eccentric, the hardest to put down once picked up."

Harrap titles also include the Shorter French-English Dictionary, one of the market leaders in France.

The Hachette plan proposes that the two reference publishing lists, Chambers and Harrap, should be separated. Chambers titles would move to Hodder Education in London and those of Harrap would move to Paris to be managed directly by Larousse.

Hachette are currently engaged in consultations with the NUJ, the staff union, over the proposals.

Although the threatened closure of Chambers Harrap primarily affects publishing in Scotland, colleagues from Lagardère companies in Europe, particularly in France, have questioned the move.

The EWC represents staff interests to management. It has expressed disbelief that all the implications of such an extreme action could be dealt with satisfactorily and closure plans finalized by 16 October, the proposed end of the consultation period with Chambers Harrap staff.

The reaction of the Lagardère EWC in Paris echoes the widespread dismay expressed in Scotland over the planned closure of the iconic Chambers firm, a decision described as an act of "cultural vandalism" by one shocked commentator.

Paul Holleran, NUJ Scottish Organiser, said:

"We are delighted that the works council are demanding a delay in the process. There are a number of issues that the company cannot ride roughshod over.
"One is the employment rights of the staff, another is the continued existence of one of Scotland's most prestigious publishers."

The campaign to save one of Scotland's oldest and most historic publishing companies continues to grow.

The local MSP Malcolm Chisholm immediately raised the issue in the Scottish parliament and John Swinney, the Scottish government Secretary for Finance, has asked Scottish Enterprise to consult with Hachette in a search for alternatives to closure.

David Martin MEP, Edinburgh MPs Mark Lazarowicz and Gavin Strang and MSPs Christopher Harvie and Margo Macdonald are among others who have called the closure into question, as have the renowned linguist David Crystal, and the distinguished Scottish journalist Neal Ascherson.

Apart from the potential loss of a historic Edinburgh company, there are serious concerns that closing Chambers, a centre of innovation in digital publishing, would have serious consequences for the future of publishing in Scotland as a whole.

Tags: , books, Hachette UK, closure, chambers harrap, lagardère group, parliament scotland, parliament europe, european works council, redundancies, larousse, hodder education