Constituency report: Carlisle

The candidates of the four main parties Credit: ITV Border

Carlisle will be one of the most hotly contested seats in the country come May 7th.

Conservative John Stevenson was elected in 2010 with a majority of just 853. Before then, Carlisle had been considered a Labour safe seat. All of his predecessors since 1964 were representatives of the Labour party.

In this year's election, the result in Carlisle is once again unpredictable, and there's everything to play for with those hoping to woo voters.

The Constituency

Geographically the constituency includes England's Border city and, after the boundary was re-drawn, the rural villages around it too (including Wetheral to the East and Dalston to the South).

With more than 100,000 people, it's the most populated area of Cumbria and southern Scotland.

Carlisle has always been strategically important thanks to its location. Battles have been fought over the city for centuries, and this election will be no different.

The race was close at the last election, with the breakdown of votes as follows:

There was just a 2% difference between the Conservative Party and the Labour Party at the last election Credit: ITV Border

So what do those voting in this modern city with an ancient past need to know?

At a glance:

  • Unemployment is lower than the national average

  • Wages are also lower than the national average

  • But housing is generally considered affordable

  • In the last census, 95% of people identified themselves as white British, which is higher than the national average

Local Government has always been a major employer for the city, but thousands also work in transport and manufacturing.

Manufacturing is a big employer in the city Credit: ITV Border

Many believe it was manufacturing that formed the backbone of Carlisle's economy. Thanks to textiles, food production and engineering, the population swelled in the early 19th century.

And although the UK manufacturing industry declined over the next 100 years, the sector is still a big employer for the region.

Twenty-five people work at John Chapman's Carlisle factory, which makes around 1,000 canvas and leather bags every month. It's a highly skilled workforce, but there's a skills shortage and staff can be hard to find. The Chief Executive wants more help for smaller businesses like his.

"We do have three apprenticeship programmes here, that's one way we're dealing with it but it's not the only answer. We also need a larger number of technical colleges in this country where young people can acquire a higher level of skills in a wider range of industries."

Daniel Chamier, Chief Executive of John Chapman

So for some, business is important. But for others, health provision is the key issue.

"I think they should do an awful lot for hospitals in this area."

Carlisle United fan

The Candidates

We asked the candidates standing for the four main parties to tell us what is that they think matters in the constituency.

Conservative Party's John Stevenson Credit: ITV Border

"I think the key issue for Carlisle in this coming election is first of all securing Carlisle's economic future, making sure we have the jobs and the prosperity that we all want to see for our city. Secondly improving healthcare, making sure our hospitals are the quality that we want and provide the healthcare we all want to see and thirdly, communications and transport, the roads and rail connections between Carlisle, and the North East and indeed within Cumbria."

John Stevenson, Conservative Party
Labour Party's Lee Sheriff Credit: ITV Border

"People realise that the hospital has loads of really good staff but not enough of them and that staff are rushed off their feet. People are also struggling to get doctor's appointments and I've noticed that myself how hard it is to get an appointment. But things like cost of living as well is another issue people are concerned about, job stability and also the prices of things like gas and electricity bills and food bills, things like that: people are really concerned."

Lee Sherriff, Labour Party
UKIP's Fiona Mills Credit: ITV Border

"The main issue affecting people in Carlisle is the so-called bedroom tax. We also want to invest in local NHS services to reduce access time to GPs and A&E, we want to support local businesses, we want to fill up all these empty shops, we also want to cut energy bills in businesses to help the economy grow in Carlisle."

Fiona Mills, UKIP
Liberal Democrats' Loraine Birchall Credit: ITV Border

"I think the biggest issue is infrastructure, if you want to bring wealth, create jobs, and improve an area you've got to improve the transport network. The A595 to the west, the A69 that takes people to the east and brings people in from Newcastle and such, that drastically needs to be improved and if we can improve that network and bring people in it will generate jobs and wealth and income."

Loraine Birchall, Liberal Democrats

The full list of candidates for Carlisle is as follows:

  • Alfred Okam (Independent)

  • Fiona Mills (UKIP)

  • Helen Davison (Green Party)

  • John Stevenson (Conservative)

  • Lee Sherriff (Labour)

  • Loraine Birchall (Liberal Democrats)

Watch Hannah McNulty's full report on the Carlisle Constituency: