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  1. Voters put questions to a panel of candidates
  2. Updates on Wednesday 29 April 2015

Live Reporting

By Julie Cush

All times stated are UK

Get involved


Julie Cush

BBC News

That's all from our coverage of the BBC Look North election debate - thank you for joining us.

If you would like to comment on anything you have heard tonight, you can get in touch with us on Twitter using #GE1015LN.

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Election 2015

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Good response on Twitter

We have had a good response to this evening's debate on Twitter using #GE2015LN. Here are just a couple of the comments:

Brian Reid

tweets: @BBCLN #GE2015LN the question is where are the permanent job opportunities, the majority of roles are low paid & short term in the NE.

Daniel Jenks

tweets: #GE2015LN 39 seats from the region and this part of the country will of course play a big part in the outcome of forming a government

'Not good enough answers'

Michael Abbinett, who asked the first question of the evening,

tweets: Asked question on #GE2015LN debate about jobs. Not good enough answers. More ambition needed for the region.

The end of the debate

That brings us to the end of the debate. Carol Malia thanks the panel and the audience for coming to the debate which was recorded earlier at Gateshead College.

Benefit scroungers 'a fallacy'

Carol Malia throws the subject back to the audience and one man says the concept of "benefit scroungers is a fallacy" with people wanting to get back to work.

Audience at BBC debate

Sian Thomas, the student who asked the original question, says her opinion is "the system is not working at the moment".

But Guy Opperman, Conservatives, says the welfare system need to be reformed. He said: "I don't want to pass the debt on to you. Our generation has to sort out the mess that we were in."

Rescind 'bedroom tax'

Guy Opperman, Conservative candidate for Hexham, says he sticks by what they have done as a Coalition and some of the choices do need to be made.

Audience during election debate

Helen Flynn, Liberal Democrat, says further planned welfare cuts by the Conservatives will impact on the most vulnerable members of society. She said they would rescind the "bedroom tax".

How to protect the most vulnerable in society?

The focus for the debate now switches to another of the key subjects - benefits.

Sian Thomas, a student from Stockton, asks: "All the main political parties pledging to making further cuts in the next parliament. What would you do to protect the most vulnerable in society and those who need the support of the welfare state?"

BBC audience at debate

Green candidate Jill Perry says if voted in her party would scrap the bedroom tax and ban zero hours contracts. A living wage would also be increased to £10 an hour by the end of this term of parliament, retain the independent living allowance for disabled people and ban benefits sanctions.

Phillip Broughton, UKIP candidate in Hartlepool, says he would also scrap the bedroom tax, but that the electorate had to remember that the welfare system was a "safety net not a life-style".

What is the impact of benefit changes?

In August 2014 almost 17% (16.9%) of the North East's population were claiming some form of out-of-work benefit - higher than any other region.

In Cumbria 12.2% of the population were claiming out-of-work benefits in August 2014 - just a fraction lower than the national average.

The North East also has the highest proportion of people on disability benefits - about 8% of the population. In 6.4% are claiming some form of disability benefit - slightly higher than the Great Britain average of 6.3%.

BBC Look North election debate welfare graphic

For that reason, any freeze on benefits or changes to what the critics call the "bedroom tax" or ending of the spare room subsidy if you prefer - will always have a bigger impact here than anywhere else. But I should say the biggest benefit bill by far here remains - the state pension.

Filling skills gap

Helen Flynn agrees saying workers from the European Union are "essential" in Harrogate and Knaresborough. She said there was need to bring in people to fill the skills gap in the economy.

And Jill Perry said they champion the freedom of movement of people in Europe. She added it was right that the UK should take in "some desperate" people who were risking their lives in the Mediterranean.

Have we lost control?

Debate host Carol Malia opens the subject to the audience asking if we have lost control of the number of people coming in to the county.

In reply one audience member speaks about the free movement that exists in the EU and how the county has benefitted from that. Another speaks about the positive impact on the Cumbria tourism sector and the role of Eastern Europeans in that.

Is legal immigration a problem?

Tomasz Fladro, is an IT worker from Crook, County Durham, who has become a British citizen after moving to the UK from Poland.

He asks: "I think political parties are picking on legal immigration. Why do you think legal immigration is a problem?"

Phillip Broughton, UKIP, says: "The point about immigration is that it needs to be controlled. We are not against immigration." He says there need to be a point-based system based on skills and talents. He called for a cap of between 20,000 and 50,000 new immigrants a year.

Julie Elliott, Labour, said her party would introduce 1,000 new border guards to monitor who was "going in and out".

What's the picture on immigration?

Richard Moss

Political editor, North East & Cumbria

We've always been the region in England with the lowest proportion of people born overseas - and that remains the case.

The latest estimate suggests the percentage of the North East's population born abroad is 6%. It's even lower in Cumbria - around 4%.

BBC Look North debate immigration

But there has been a significant rise. Since 2011, one estimate puts the increase in the North East's migrant population at 20%. Over that period that's a faster percentage rise than any other part of mainland UK - more than half of those people arriving from the EU.

The question I suppose - is it vital for our economy to have people coming in, could the arrival of unskilled workers drive down wages, and what if any impact is there on public services?

How is the health service coping?

Richard Moss

Political editor, North East & Cumbria

In the last three months of 2010, there were more than 95,000 hospital admissions across the North East, Cumbria and North Yorkshire. In the same period in 2014 that was up to just over 123,000.

And that may help explain why our hospitals are missing some waiting time targets. Eight out of 11 of our hospital trusts missed waiting time targets in their accident and emergency departments in mid-April.

BBC Look North debate NHS graphic

And we know our ambulance services have struggled with demand too.

But on cancer, there's better news - in the latest figures five out of six providers in our region did get people from a GP to a cancer specialist within two weeks.

NHS - 'beloved' service

Labour candidate for Sunderland Central, Julie Elliott, says: "We created the NHS, and panel members may laugh at that, but we firmly believe in the NHS but it is under dramatic risk - under this Government there is a real risk it won't be here in five years."

Panel of politicians

Jill Perry, Green candidate for Workington, says recruitment is one problem as is the trend towards privatisation of services, introducing a profit motive into the health service and opening it up to competition.

Helen Flynn, Liberal Democrat, said we will provide the funding that has been indicated in the five-year forward plan for the NHS. She said the NHS was the "beloved" service of the country and the funding needed to be kept there.

Debate moves on to the NHS

The debate now moves on to the NHS with two questions

Dr Tony Shaw, a GP from Darlington, asks : "Do you agree that the NHS is used as a political football and a way to win votes by politicians?"

Mahesh Dhebar

And Mr Mahesh Dhebar (pictured), a retired surgeon from Cockermouth, asks: "How will you fund the NHS properly and would you be prepared to allocate more NHS funding for rural and geographically isolated areas such as Cumbria?"

'Don't 'demonise' small businesses plea

Host Carol Malia asked the audience if anyone was struggling to find a job. No-one owned up, but local business owners in the audience asked the panel to be more realistic about wages. One said that it was great to aspire to a minimum wage but that many small employers couldn't afford it. He said: "Don't demonise us for low wages."

But Julie Elliott, Labour, called for a ban on "exploitative zero-hours contracts". She said their position is if people work regular hours for 12 weeks or more they should be entitled to a contract and. She said: "Good employers pay enough money for people to live on."

Employment picture in the North East

Richard Moss

Political editor, North East & Cumbria

In May 2010, when David Cameron entered Downing Street, 121,000 people were out of work in the North East or 9.3% of the workforce.

On the latest figures, that's down to 100,000 or 7.7%. Our unemployment rate does though remain the highest in the UK.

But one thing the Coalition wanted to do was rebalance the economy - create private sector jobs to replace those lost in the public sector.

Look North election debate economy graphic

And since June 2010, although the number employed in the North East's public sector is down by 35,000, the number working in the private sector has gone up 56,000.

But of course there is debate about the quality of jobs, and over that period although there has been an increase in full-time employment - there has also been a rise in the numbers in temporary work.

First question is about helping the unemployed

Michael Abbinnett, a job seeker from Middlesbrough, asks: "I went to university and got a degree but have found myself unemployed for almost two years. What would you do to help the 100,000 people here in the North East who still don't have a job?"

Michael Abbinett

Guy Opperman, Conservative, says there is "genuine change". He says: "Since 2010 unemployment is down, we have doubled apprenticeships, there are a lot of tech start-ups, we have created 27,000 new businesses, we need to lower the taxes for those businesses."

Phillip Broughton, UKIP, says people need more options than university including apprenticeships. They would raise the tax threshold with no tax for those earning less than £13,000 and cut tuition fees for students in certain subjects.

Panel for the debate

The panellists for tonight's debate are: Guy Opperman - Conservative candidate for Hexham; Julie Elliott - Labour candidate for Sunderland Central; Helen Flynn - Liberal Democrat candidate for Harrogate & Knaresborough; Phillip Broughton - UKIP candidate for Hartlepool and Jill Perry - Green candidate for Workington.

BBC Look North election debate candidates

An invited audience of voters from across the North East and Cumbria were given the chance to put their questions to the panel.

Audience warm up

BBC Look North North East & Cumbria

tweets: Thanks to @bbcnewcastle @alfiejoey who got our audience this evening warmed up and made them laugh along the way

Alfie Joey

Key seats in the North East and Cumbria

Richard Moss

Political editor, North East & Cumbria

With just over a week to go, the parties are all trying to find the magic formula to give them a boost in the polls. And with the election result looking close and uncertain, every vote could make a difference.

The North East and Cumbria has some key seats that could make a crucial difference in such a tight contest.

Behind the scenes at the BBC Look North election debate

So it is a perfect time to assess what the parties have to offer the region, and allow voters the chance to ask some searching questions.

That is exactly what the BBC Look North Election 2015 Special aims to achieve, focusing on key subjects such as jobs, health, immigration, welfare and public spending.

Hello and welcome

Julie Cush

BBC News

Thank you for joining us for our coverage of BBC Look North's election debate for the North East and Cumbria.

The debate will feature a panel of five prospective candidates from across the region along with an audience of 67 voters and was recorded at Gateshead College earlier this evening.

BBC Look North election debate graphic

The debate will be broadcast on BBC One from 22:50 BST. You can join the discussion around the debate on Twitter using #GE2015LN, on the

Look North Facebook page. or by emailing us