Leisure and community centres could face cuts or shut as councils struggle to balance their books, council leaders warn.  

Two of Norfolk's council bosses told MPs that authorities will have to make 'unpalatable' cuts as costs increase but money given by the government to provide services falls short.

Sam Chapman-Allen, leader of Breckland District Council and John Fuller, leader of South Norfolk Council, gave evidence at a House of Commons committee convened against a backdrop of several councils getting into financial difficulties.

Mr Fuller, vice chairman of the Local Government Association's economy and resources board, told the cross-party levelling up, housing and communities committee: "Over the next two years the sector is £4bn short of just maintaining services where they should be today. That's an enormous mountain to climb."

Eastern Daily Press: Sam Chapman-Allen has warned councils could have to consider closing or reducing services at leisure centresSam Chapman-Allen has warned councils could have to consider closing or reducing services at leisure centres (Image: Dereham Leisure Centre)

And he said it came as costs of children's services, adult social care and homelessness are soaring.

Norfolk County Council is currently wrestling with a £46.2m budget gap, while district councils are also weighing up their budget plans for next year.

Eastern Daily Press: Sam Chapman-AllenSam Chapman-Allen (Image: Breckland District Council)

Mr Chapman-Allen, chairman of the District Council's Network, said councils, having made savings for years, were now having to look at cuts in services they had not previously considered, such as leisure, tourism, culture and regeneration.

He said: "To bring it back to Breckland, we are going through line by line every service we are delivering.

"As politicians, none of us get elected to reduce or stop services we deliver for communities, but that's the position we are finding ourselves in.

"Some of those will be really unpalatable and really difficult - the position of closing or stopping activities such as community groups and community centres."

And he said stopping those services could then add to costs for social care, because they are crucial for wellbeing and to stop isolation.

Eastern Daily Press: John FullerJohn Fuller (Image: Archant)

Mr Fuller said there were specific reasons which had triggered some councils to issue notices effectively declaring bankruptcy, but feared it would now become more widespread.

He said: "There's a general understanding that, if not this year, then next year, about half the authorities will be in distress and that is quite a significant number."

The committee was told councils need more flexibility and certainty over how much money they get from the government.