Carlisle residents were given the chance to grill leading national politicians this week, populating a virtual audience for this week's edition of the BBC show Question Time.

The flagship weekly political discussion programme traditionally travels to a different location each week, and offers a panel of leading politicians, experts, businesspeople and public figures the opportunity to respond to questions from audience members.

With the ongoing restrictions put in place as a result of Covid-19, Question Time this week visited Carlisle virtually, with audience members from the area taking part via video call, putting questions to the likes of Conservative transport minister Grant Shapps and Labour shadow sports minister Alison McGovern.

Also on the panel was SNP MP David Linden; chairman of online retailer Ocado Stuart Rose; and Helen Stokes-Lampard, a GP and chairwoman of the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges.

An array of topics were discussed, including the mental health impact of the current tight restrictions placed on the activities and movements of those who have recently started or returned to university, in a bid to contain any potential spread of the virus.

Perhaps the most striking segment of the show was the impassioned concerns put forward by several members of Carlisle's business community, on the continued challenges faced by many businesses in light of the Covid-19 pandemic, and what was described as a lack of support from the Government in the face of continued difficulties.

One of those who spoke was James Hill, owner of the Quarter Lounge restaurant and the Lounge on the Green in Houghton.

"We just don't know what to do for December. We don't know if we should keep our staff on," he said.

"Normally at this time of year, I have two thirds of my Christmas bookings in. It's a daunting experience going into this period for our trade.

"I just don't understand how this new job support scheme is meant to help our trades at the moment.

"We have no guidance on the next three months, at all, of what our trade should do, what we should advise our customers.

"I'm not saying the Government haven't done wonders so far with the economy, with the packages we've had, the furlough scheme, the grants we've had.

"But moving forward now, we've got six months ahead of us where we're going to lose so much of the hospitality trade because of uncertainty."

The Government has been clear in recent weeks on its position that the nature of the support it provides businesses through the coming months must "evolve" in line with the changing situation.

A Treasury spokesman said last week that the economic plan now in place is "one of the most generous and comprehensive" in the world, with more than £190 billion of support for people, businesses and public services.

This includes"paying the wages of nearly 12 million people", and "supporting over a million businesses through grants, loans and rates cuts".

"The government has been consistently clear that it would keep its support under review to protect jobs and the economy, with today’s action reflecting the evolving circumstances and uncertainty of the months ahead," the spokesman added.

Victoria Farley, who runs the Lanercost Tea Room, was another audience member. She explained that her business has "already lost" its profits for 2020, and has had to close until March 2021 as a result.

"I don't think the politicians get it," she said. "What do you do when you don't have any revenue coming in?

"I'm not alone. We've had a little bit of support but we now seem to be left high and dry.

"What do you do when you don't have any revenue coming in? How do you sustain your business?

"We're just classed by the Government as not viable. But we are viable. We had a successful business for 10 years. Only through Covid have we have no visitors, and therefore no revenue."

"Are we expendable? Small businesses are the background of the country. But we're just going to be left now, high and dry."