A KEY economic advisor to Nicola Sturgeon has said universal basic income (UBI) would be a "very expensive" distraction and should not be prioritised. 

Benny Higgins, chair of the Advisory Group on Economic Recovery, said the focus should be on boosting employment in the wake of the coronavirus crisis. 

The First Minister previously said the virus had made her "much, much more strongly of the view that it is an idea that's time has come". 

UBI would offer every individual, regardless of existing welfare benefits or earned income, an unconditional, regular payment.

Earlier this month, an expert group endorsed the idea of pilots in Scotland.

It proposed two payment levels, the higher of which would see working-age adults paid £11,000 a year.

The UK government has ultimate power over a national scheme.

But Mr Higgins, the former boss of Tesco Bank, said it is not the right time. 

Speaking to The Herald, he said: "My personal conclusion at the moment is that we've really got to use all of our resources to get people back to work, rather than support them out of work. 

"I think, therefore, this isn't the time to prioritise a universal basic income. 

"I'd rather we use all of our resources to get Scotland back to work."

He added: "We're faced with an unprecedented challenge, and the biggest issue we're facing is the levels of unemployment. 

"And I think to be distracted by universal basic income now, at a time when actually it would be very expensive and it would detract from the focus on unemployment, I think it's just not the right time."

The advisory group chaired by Mr Higgins has produced a report with 25 recommendations to help Scotland recover from Covid-19.

It said young people should be guaranteed secure jobs for at least two years to help tackle a "potential tsunami" of unemployment. 

Mr Higgins suggested around £6 billion in "stimulus" will be needed for Scotland to recover.

Ms Sturgeon said the Scottish Government will respond to the report by the end of July.

On UBI, the report said: "In the recovery phase, our priority must be to recover the jobs that are likely to be lost as a result of the pandemic. 

"So while we understand the arguments in favour, we do not think that now is the time to prioritise a universal basic income."

The First Minister told MSPs last month: "My position on [UBI] has gone from a keen interest in exploring it to what I would describe now as active support for that given the experience right now."