A spat between councillors threatened to disrupt decisions about the future of the Basildon borough.

An important debate about raising council tax and taking on almost £90m in extra debt was put on pause while council leader Andrew Baggott told a rival councillor off for looking at his phone.

It is the second time Mr Baggott has been accused of playground politics and follows a row with Independent councillor Kerry Smith over the sale of land by Basildon Golf Course.

Basildon’s policy oversight and strategy committee met on Thursday night to discuss why the council was raising council tax by almost 3 per cent – the maximum increase possible without a referendum.

Mr Smith claimed he was checking the phone because a constituent was struggling with housing repairs.

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?

“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 e-mail 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.

Labour councillors slammed the Tories for raising council tax and accused them of breaking promises to taxpayers. Councillor David Burton-Sampson said: “You said you would keep council tax low, you then choose to raise it by the maximum amount allowable.”