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Summary

  1. Candidates vying to become first West Midlands mayor go head to head in TV debate
  2. The six face audience questions in BBC One programme
  3. Transport, housing and promoting the region are among the key issues
  4. Whoever wins will control an £8bn budget and take decisions affecting three million people

Live Reporting

By Lisa Wright and John Newton

All times stated are UK

Good night from us in the West Midlands - 'the best place ever'

And the debate is over.

We've had Spitfires, Shakespeare, Boston, Berlin and Brexit.

That's quite a mix.

The election - amid all that there was one mentioned - takes place on 4 May.

Our live coverage of the region's news continues online from 08:00 on Friday.

Thanks for joining us.

'Ingenuity, creativity and innovation'

Toning it down, but passionate nevertheless, is Liberal Democrat Beverley Nielsen - she says it's "not just about Birmingham" but the whole of the West Midlands... and how, together, "we are the greatest region in the UK".

The West Midlands will, she says, "change the world again" with "ingenuity, creativity and our innovation and design".

And she made her point without even referencing Elgar, unlike Mr Simon.

Green candidate James Burn rounds off the topic - and indeed the evening - saying: "We have to bring back pride by rebuilding our local economies."

He says "no mayor can understand the needs" of "every single place", so things need to be broadened out, "to involve more people from more communities from more areas to make sure this authority understands the needs of everyone across the region".

'West Midlands is the best thing ever'

UKIP candidate Peter Durnell says he wants to see Birmingham succeed, but its neighbours "shouldn't be left behind". He wants to get "towns back on their feet".

Then Sion Simon gets excited. Really excited. You can stick your Bostons, he seems to be saying, and Berlin too.... the West Midlands, he says, "is the best place in the world".

Fellow candidates begin to grin at a gleaming soap box, but he's not in the mood for stopping.

Host Patrick Burns reigns him in. "We're all in agreement it's a wonderful place." But Mr Simon won't take the hint. Having already mentioned Spitfires and steam engines, he then plays the Shakespeare card.

There's not a dry eye in the house (probably).

William Shakespeare
Getty Images

Losing the PR game

Graham Stevenson, Communist, is first to tackle the question about Birmingham's place in the world.

It's not the only area under the Combined Authority's remit, but it's refreshing to have another B word on candidates' lips.

Mr Stevenson says it's all very well having a spangly, new-look Brum, but a mayor must not lose sight of the city's neighbours.

But Andy Street as good as scoffs at Manchester being the perceived competition.

He says he doesn't want to be second in anything and is much more interested in how Birmingham competes with Berlin, Barcelona and Boston - yep, we've gone B crazy.

"We are doing far better than Manchester," he says. The issue, he adds, is Birmingham has "lost the PR game". 

The audience likes this answer.

Birmingham v Manchester?

Here's the final question....

Nigel Waldron says many people feel Birmingham has lost its second city status to Manchester and asks candidates how they intend to put it back on the map.

Nigel Waldron
BBC

Brexit: A West Midlands seat at the table

Labour candidate Sion Simon says we need a "West Midlands seat at the table".

"What we need our mayor to deliver is a West Midlands Brexit," he adds. We're pretty sure that doesn't mean a standalone, seceding West Midlands - Brexit means Brexit, but it doesn't meant that.

Conservative Andy Street says he can get the government to deliver a tailor-made solution for big regional businesses such as JLR.

Asked by host Patrick Burns whether, theoretically, a Conservative mayor would "make himself a nuisance with a Conservative government", Mr Street replies: "Of course."

Graham Stevenson, Communist, says the "EU needs us as much as we need them - but the world needs us more. 

"I think we can get a revived manufacturing capacity in the West Midlands on the back of Brexit."

'Shut up and get on with it'

Brexit, Patrick Burns says, is "the burning issue of the day". There's no getting away from it. We're here for a debate about a metro mayor for Dudley, but Europe is always on the horizon. 

Liberal Democrat Beverley Nielsen says her approach as mayor in a Brexit world would be about "investing in our homegrown businesses" - she also wants to see the nurturing of young talent.

The region, she says, is a "human goldmine".

Peter Durnell, the UKIP candidate, says he is "passionate" about Brexit - no surprise there, given his party allegiance - and says he welcomes the "opportunities we are going to have to trade with the world". Businesses, he says, while "challenged" by Brexit, are "excited by it; it's getting them to think in different ways".

Green candidate James Burn puts Brexit bluntly: "It's happening." 

"We've all got to shut up and get on with it," he says, calling it a "massive opportunity to bring a more homegrown economy".

The B word is back

It's the fifth question of the night and the topic is one that seems to be on everyone's lips - Brexit.

Devinichi Warmington asks how the elected mayor would use Brexit to boost the economy.

Devinichi Warmington
BBC

'Brexit summit' - and carrots

Green candidate James Burn says the first thing he would do is appoint a deputy mayor - with all decisions made in the context of whether "ordinary people" are benefiting.

Graham Stevenson, Communist, returns to his theme of municipal ownership of bus and tram provision.

Then he says: "Before you can get people out of their cars, you have to provide massive carrots and you can only do that with really serious money."

Carrot
Getty Images
'Massive carrot'

And.....

BREXIT KLAXON! 

It's the second mention of the B word tonight; this time 37 minutes in - and it's from Conservative Andy Street, who says in his first 100 days he would hold a "Brexit summit".

He says it would "bring together big businesses" and key government ministers who are "negotiating a future deal".

Finger-pointing

Labour's Sion Simon wants to cap bus and tram fares at £4.40.

"Can you do that?" asks Patrick Burns, saying it's a deregulated market.

And there we have it - the first pointy finger of the night.

Sion Simon
BBC

"Give me a minute, Patrick," replies Mr Simon, before saying that as well as the fares cap, he wants to see free public transport on bus and trams for 16 to 19 year olds in further education. "I think I can probably do that in 100 days," he adds.  

Beverley's Bikes!

Beverley Nielsen, the Liberal Democrat, says she would introduce "universal fares" and park and ride with "sprint bus solutions" to clear up the air.

And then she hits us with Beverley's Bikes.

BEVERLEY'S BIKES! You know, like Boris bikes, but Beverley ones.

The smile says it all. But before she can expand, Patrick Burns fires the same question at Labour's Sion Simon and we're left hanging, with only our mind's eye for company.

Beverley Nielsen
BBC

'Not promised great things'

"I've not promised great things after 100 days," says UKIP candidate Peter Durnell. "It's not a presidential position." (See, we told you).

He stresses that the mayor will have to work alongside seven other councils and the role will mean collaboration.

"The first thing I would be doing is find out what's going on, because I don't think anyone knows what's going on in the Combined Authority."

And we're back to suspicion over the very set-up on which people will vote on 4 May.

The first 100 days

The "first 100 days" is the measure by which US presidents' early work is judged - and it's the period in which audience member Carola Lange is interested.

What do the candidates think they could achieve in this period?  

I suppose we could have used a picture of Donald Trump here. But here's one of Carola instead. 

Carola Lange
BBC

'Build on the rich belt'

Communist Graham Stevenson's answer to housing problems is to "build on the rich belt".

It turns out "rich belt" means a tax-driven "massive expansion of council house-building."

'Wonderful example of failure'

Conservative Andy Street refers to the "hundreds" of derelict sites in the region - a "wonderful example of failure in the past". He wants to clear and develop them.

But Patrick Burns asks him about the 6,000 homes earmarked for green fields in Sutton Coldfield, Birmingham.

Mr Street says it's a result of the very thing about which he's just complained 

'Housing in crisis'

James Burn, Green, says housing in the region is in crisis, with a rising number of rough sleepers and not enough affordable homes being built.

Labour's Sion Simon offers an holistic approach of sorts. He says a single "spacial plan" is needed to more efficiently assess the region's varied pockets of land. 

UKIP's Peter Durnell isn't really feeling Mr Simon's idea. And he says greenbelt will inevitably be brought into the equation to solve housing issues.

Beverley Nielsen, Liberal Democrat, says at some point there must be acceptance of "sensitive use of greenbelt land". 

Housing is the next issue to be discussed

Our third question of the night is another big topic for the West Midlands - housing.

Dan Jones in the audience asks how the mayor will ensure more affordable housing is created in the region without negatively impacting on green space.

Dan Jones
BBC

'Magic pot of money'

"There isn't a magic pot of money" is the second soundbite of the night - it's from Green Party candidate James Burn who's tackling the tricky issue of finding affordable options to congestion.

He says he's concerned by pollution-related deaths and the problem is that public transport isn't good enough. But "no matter who's mayor" the government won't be simply "giving out money".

He says nationalising the M6 Toll would cost the government a billion pounds - and this money could be better spent on alternative schemes, including the reopening of disused passenger rail lines.

"Dreadful and appalling"

"Dreadful and appalling" - host Patrick Burns reminds Andy Street, Conservative, of the way he's described congestion in the Midlands.

Mr Street says his plan is to invest in public transport, extend Metro provision and reopen passenger railways lines - and, he reckons, he's the most able among the candidates to win the necessary investment.

Sion Simon, Labour, goes straight for the M6 Toll issue, calling its nationalisation a "no-brainer", saying it would take tens of thousands of vehicles a day off the region's motorways.

Amid some party politics between Mr Street and Mr Simon, UKIP's Peter Durnell is less convinced that the M6 Toll is the key to it all - he's more interested in the "priorities" of "bottlenecks and pinch points".

Beverley Nielsen, Liberal Democrat, says she's less than impressed with government investment, while Graham Stevenson, also calls for the toll's nationalisation - along with bringing bus companies under the control of councils.

Transport is the evening's second topic

Next up with a question is audience member Mohammed Ali - and it's a biggie for the region, as transport will be one of the mayor's responsibilities.

Mr Ali wants to know what the plans are to reduce congestion on the region's motorways and the candidates' views on nationalising the M6 Toll.

Mohammed Ali
BBC

Video explainer breather

So, we've heard a salary of £79,000 quoted. For what?

Here's the background... And keep an eye out for the man on the tram.

What do you know about the new West Midlands Metro Mayor role?

Brexit alert!

BREXIT KLAXON.

Well... that didn't take long. After just ten minutes, someone has said the B word.

An audience member says the decision to leave the EU gives the elected mayor a chance to boost investment.

"We need somebody who can travel to Europe," she says, "and the rest of the world and really sell Birmingham and the rest of the West Midlands and get inward investment into the region."

How long until the B word is dropped again?

'Waste of money'

Patrick Burns asks whether the proposed £79,000 salary is "too extravagant".

Sion Simon says an independent body should set the pay.

Audience member Graham Slater - who asked the question - doesn't mince his words, describing the role as "a waste of money" and declares he will spoil his paper, saying he thinks the majority of papers will be spoiled.

So, one question down and the proceedings have taken on an unusual tone - it's not so much a debate about who should win, but whether we should be voting at all.

Watch: The candidates on why there should be a mayor - or should not!

Should there be a mayor? Here's what the candidates have to say...

Six candidates standing for West Midlands 'metro mayor' say why the post should exist

'Extra layer of fog'

Communist candidate Graham Stevenson has, arguably, the first soundbite of the evening (although everyone's given it a go).

It's fair to say he's not 100% behind the idea of a mayor, even saying that if you want a job doing properly, get someone who doesn't want to do it.

But wait.... that's still not the soundbite.

Mr Stevenson says a "metro mayor" is "an extra layer of government; an extra layer of fog".

The role needs 'more accountability'

Green candidate James Burn says despite the fact people in Birmingham and Coventry in 2012 "voted against a mayor", a "mayor can work". But, he says, the role needs more accountability, scrutiny and honesty.   

Liberal Democrat Beverley Nielsen says the role is about fighting cuts handed down at national level. She also says she'd take the full £79,000 wage - a fitting sum, she says, if the position is to be taken seriously.

Conservative candidate Andy Street says the region "categorically" needs a "metro mayor".

He says one of the reasons the region has done "relatively poorly over the last 40 years is that we've not had anybody championing" it.

"For the first time we will have an individual responsible for that."

'Taking back control'

The first to answer is Labour candidate Sion Simon who says the most important thing is that "we run our own region".

He says the mayor is about "taking back control, real control, real power from the London government that has let us down in the West Midlands".

UKIP candidate Peter Durnell doesn't follow up on Mr Simon's them-and-us vision. Instead, he expresses doubts about the viability of the set-up and how it will pay for itself. It's in keeping with host Patrick Burns' assessment that there has not been much evidence of a "great appetite" among the electorate for this kind of mayor.

Mr Durnell says he's running to "take control" of the costs of the Combined Authority. He also says he'll come cheap, taking a £30,000 salary out of the proposed £79,000. 

The evening's first question

And there's no messing around, we're straight into the first question and it's taken on a rather existential tone - Why do we need a mayor?

Graham Slater, the audience member who's asked the question, wants to know whether the role is "just another expensive level of bureaucracy".

Graham Slater
BBC

And we're off...

Here they are... The six people vying for votes.

Host, Patrick Burns, alludes to the elephant in the room - the thunder-stealing general election - but says the vote for "metro mayor" is the region's "own big one".

Share your thoughts on the issues discussed this evening using the Twitter hashtag #WMMayor

The candidates
BBC

West Midlands mayor election explained

Okay, so a "metro mayor" for the region - what does it all mean?

The mayor is going to head a West Midlands Combined Authority made up of seven constituent member councils - Birmingham, Coventry, Solihull and all four Black Country boroughs of Dudley, Sandwell, Walsall and Wolverhampton.

Here's more on the concept, including how much the mayor costs and the powers they'll have.

Birmingham
PA/DAVID JONES
Birmingham and neighbouring towns and cities are set to be represented by an elected mayor for the West Midlands

Meet the candidates

Patrick Burns, Midlands political editor, is your host for the special TV debate.

He will introduce you to six candidates.

Clockwise from top left they are: James Burn (Green); Beverley Nielsen (Liberal Democrat); Graham Stevenson (Communist); Andy Street (Conservative); Sion Simon (Labour); and Peter Durnell (UKIP).

The candidates
Birmingham City Council
The candidates
Birmingham City Council

Good evening and welcome

Good evening and welcome to our live online coverage of BBC One's debate: A mayor for the West Midlands.

Just seven weeks from a snap general election, and post-EU ref, elections seem to be the context in which we exist at the moment.

This one, though, is a little different. For a start, the 4 May vote is for a brand new position for a burgeoning type of local government in the region. 

In tonight's programme, six candidates will outline their vision for "metro mayor" - the person to take charge of the new West Midlands Combined Authority.

Before the debate starts, we'll bring you up to speed on just what all that means - and there'll be a video explainer during the debate too.