Interview: Andrew Lewis, Chief Executive of Liverpool City Council and Cheshire and Merseyside’s public health ‘champion’

Andrew Lewis is the Chief Executive of Liverpool City Council. He joined the Council earlier this year from Cheshire West and Chester Council, where he was Chief Executive since 2018. Prior to this, Andrew was the first Managing Director of the Tees Valley Combined Authority from 2016-2018. He was Assistant Chief Executive at Newcastle Council from 2010. Before moving into local government, Andrew worked as a senior economic advisor at the Treasury, working on employment, tax and international policy.  He was seconded as Deputy Regional Director of the Government Office for the North East and led the Northern Way partnership to promote economic growth across the North.

As well as his role with Liverpool City Council, Andrew has also taken up the role of Lead Chief Executive for Health and Wellbeing in Cheshire and Merseyside and will be working closely with the subregion’s Directors of Public Health to support the system to improve health and wellbeing.

How has your experience at Liverpool City Council been so far?

I joined the Council at the right time and started on a high, as my first week was the week after the Eurovision Song Contest and all the fantastic events that were happening across the city, which were just absolutely incredible. What was great was seeing the behind the scenes work that the Council was doing to support the vast number of people visiting the city and how many cultural events were being put on to really engage people. That was a really positive experience at the very beginning, and I was made to feel so welcome during that time. However, I have come to terms with the fact that not every week will be like that one!

Tell us about your role as Lead Chief Executive for Health and Wellbeing in Cheshire and Merseyside

I am very pleased to be taking on this role, as it’s an important sign of Collaboration between the Councils in Cheshire and Merseyside and will allow us to support each other on some of those really big cross-cutting issues. I see my role as helping in a modest way to connect the corporate leadership of the councils to make sure we’re working together collectively to make the best of our relationship with our local NHS and health system.

Why is this important?

Thanks to the fantastic work of the Champs Public Health Collaborative, there is a really strong spirit of collaboration happening already in Cheshire and Merseyside and I am really pleased to be asked by colleagues to be a part of this and take a lead on health issues. Being Chief Executive through the COVID-19 pandemic has just reinforced to me how vital it is that we have a very strong relationship with the NHS and it also showed me the value of public health and how much expertise we have in the subregion. I try and take a very collaborative approach to leadership and I think where that collaboration really makes a difference is across boundaries, so if we can support local government and the local NHS to work seamlessly together on behalf of our residents, then I think we’ll be setting a really important basis for an improvement in service delivery across the subregion.

What are the challenges and opportunities Liverpool is currently facing regarding health and wellbeing?

Our city faces many challenges and we cannot be remotely satisfied with the outcomes that we currently have. Liverpool is one of the most deprived local authorities in England and that’s reflected in the really poor outcomes that many of our residents are facing. We have a gap in life expectancy of about three and a half years compared with the national average, and in the city itself the gap between the ward with the highest life expectancy and the lowest is 15 years. That disparity is unacceptable to us and there are far too people who are left behind with poor health outcomes, often linked to other social and economic deprivations.

We have a very profound responsibility to be able to address these issues. We know it’s not just about healthcare, but it’s also about a really strong public health response. And that’s where I think the Collaborative and Cheshire and Merseyside’s Directors of Public Health can really lead the way and become a nationally recognised entity that is making a difference in a part of the country which has some of the greatest challenges.

What did you learn from your experience of being a local authority Chief Executive during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic?

It was an incredibly important time for all of us and I think we should never forget about the feeling that we all had and what we experienced, especially during that first phase, when we had to work around the clock and make radical changes to the way in which public services were delivered. One of the positives however was the emphasis on partnership and collaboration during that time, and it is also during these times you realise how vital it is to be able to work seamlessly across boundaries. It also demonstrated how important our public services are to our residents and I was blown away by the incredible response from our staff, who went above and beyond and did more than anyone would have expected them to deliver. My mission now is to utilise that sense of urgency and collective effort to address some of the longer-term issues we face that are equally as important, but sometimes don’t create the galvanising impact that the pandemic did.

Do you have any advice for aspiring future leaders?

One piece of advice I would give is to always remember your commitment to making a difference to communities and be curious about the community around you. Always seek new information and learn about the people you serve. No matter what stage of your career you’re in, you can always learn something new.

How do you look after your health and wellbeing?

I make sure to take regular leave from work and use this time effectively, so switching off and enjoying time outside of work. Physical activity is also important, I have used the couch to 5k app to help with this and try and take some time throughout the day to move around, even if it’s just for 10 minutes at a time.

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