An important debate over a council tax hike descended into a farce when councillors began arguing about the use of a mobile phone.

Basildon Council's Policy Oversight and Strategy Committee met last night to discuss why the authority was raising council tax by almost 3 per cent – the maximum increase possible.

But it was interrupted when the leader of the council and chair of the meeting, Andrew Baggott, called out Independent Councillor Kerry Smith for looking at his mobile phone.

Mr Smith hit back at the council leader telling him he was checking the phone because a constituent was struggling with housing repairs but Mr Baggott argued he could have “been listening to the sports results” and that his track record for honesty is “a matter that is on record”.

The comment left Mr Smith questioning if the leader was calling him a liar.

“You can look at the phone record,” Mr Smith continued.

“A constituent has phoned me at 8.15pm, why would they be phoning a councillor at 8.15pm? For a social chat or is there a problem? Do you think it is objectionable for a councillor to deal with case work in the evening?

“I just listened to a message, it could have been a genuine emergency.”

Mr Baggott eventually backed down and allowed the councillor to continue the debate.

The pair have been at odds since the beginning of the week when Mr Baggott leaked an email exchange to the press in which the Independent councillor threatened to leak details of a council plan that has been restricted from the public.

Mr Smith later revealed that the plan involves the council selling a plot of land near the Basildon Golf Course for just £1.

Earlier in the meeting Labour councillors slammed the Conservative administration for raising council tax and accused them of breaking promises to tax payers.

Councillor David Burton-Sampson said: “Let’s be frank, you promised the electorate something that you are now turning your back on. That is a lie. That is a lie to the electorate.

"You said you would keep council tax low, you then choose to raise it by the maximum amount allowable. That is going against your election literature that you were elected to this council on in May 2018.”

While Mr Baggott did not address the accusations, he said he looks forward to seeing Labour present an alternative budget at a full council meeting on February 14.

Budget documents show that money raised through the council tax increase will contribute towards paying for more housing, commercial investment opportunities and council services.