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First West Midlands Mayor election debate to be hosted by the Express & Star

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The first major West Midlands Mayoral election debate will be held at the Black Country Living Museum next month, hosted by the Express & Star.

All five candidates from the main parties will be outlining their policies and taking part in the Question Time-style event chaired by Editor Keith Harrison.

It will be held on the evening of Tuesday, March 7 in The Workers' Institute in front of a 200-strong audience and broadcast live online.

"The West Midlands Mayor will wield great influence over the next few years and it's important that people get the chance to have their say on the key issues in the Black Country and beyond," said Mr Harrison.

"It will be a great opportunity for ordinary people to question the candidates about their policies and I'm looking forward to some lively debates."

Details of how Express & Star readers can attend the debate will be released in the coming days.

The event will be the first of four major hustings taking place across the West Midlands organised by the region's newspapers and Urban Communications.

James Burn (Green), Pete Durnell (Ukip), Beverley Nielsen (Lib Dem), Sion Simon (Labour) and Andy Street (Conservative) are bidding to be the first 'Metro Mayor' for the West Midlands and will have new powers over transport, economic growth, skills, housing, and mental health.

The Mayor will chair the West Midlands Combined Authority which covers the four Black Country metropolitan boroughs as well as Birmingham, Coventry, and Solihull.

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The region goes to the polls on May 4.

Coventry Cathedral will host the second debate on March 22, with the final two taking place at Birmingham Hippodrome on April 4, and Resorts World Birmingham at the NEC complex on April 23.

Kevin Johnson, managing director of Urban Communications said: ""The election of the first West Midlands Mayor will be a landmark political moment in the region.

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"The creation of the West Midlands Combined Authority and now the election of a Mayor represent huge advances for an economic area where pan-region, cross-party working has not, until recently, been the order of the day.

"However, a West Midlands Mayor does not have widespread public awareness, understanding or anything near to total support.

"With no other elections currently taking place on the same day, 4th May 2017, there are fears of a low turnout for the election. That could impact upon the mandate of the incoming Mayor.

"Generating interest and engagement in this election is going to be challenging. It will need big moments to bring the contest and the opportunity to life.

"Debates that are open to, and fully involve, the public are therefore essential to this election.

"I am very grateful to all the candidates for readily signing up to public debates when we started to pull together plans a few months ago.

"Having local newspapers at the forefront of the public debates, including before and after the action on stage, is also critical. I am looking forward to working with the editors and their teams to make sure the public debates reach as many people as possible.

"Staging the events in venues which are accessible to the public; will provide great backdrops for public debates and which symbolise some of the best features of the West Midlands is also important.

"So, I appreciate the incredible support we have from the Black Country Museum, Coventry Cathedral, Birmingham Hippodrome and the NEC Group."

"The public debates are supported by a range of service partners including Purpose (brand and design), PSP (technical services) and Action Starter (technology).

"Principal partners include the chambers of commerce across the region (Greater Birmingham, Black Country and Coventry and Warwickshire) and leading think tank Centre for Cities.

"Other partners include BPS Birmingham, the Lunar Society, Downtown in Business Birmingham and Colmore Business District.

A new website www.westmidselects.org.uk has today been launched to help voters find out more about the role of the Mayor, the candidates and details of how to cast their vote on May 4.

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