By my count, some 90 Tarzan films have been made over nearly a century. Lord Heseltine the Tarzan of British politics has a similarly distinguished record when it comes to plain speaking about the state of the economy.
His report on UK competitiveness , launched in Birmingham last week to great fanfare, pulls no punches.
His analysis of the history of the British economy hits the mark, and many of his recommendations will strike a chord with business people across the country. As he intimates, Britain has experienced 50 years of trade deficits and 70 years of relative economic decline. He correctly identifies that it is commerce and industry, not just banking and consumption, which will drive our country's future success. Not enough of today's small and medium-sized companies become tomorrow's global champions, as many are either purchased or their growth plateaus too early.
To my mind, the only major economic trend he misses is the fact that Britain's economic predicament owes much to successive governments' obsession with the City of London (LSE: CIN.L - news) and to the failed structure of business finance, although he does recognise the need for more patient, long-term capital to enable the growth of the real economy.
And surely any observer would agree with his conclusion that the huge sums of money spent over decades on things like skills and training have not been targeted properly, because funding regimes have not been sensitive to local business and economic needs. When companies report that the doors of local schools are closed to them, or the local college isn't delivering the qualified young people who will become the skilled workers and managers of tomorrow, there's clearly a problem.
Most of the business people I meet agree that government lacks the foresight to really support business growth. Only a more activist, long-term approach toward commerce and industry will ensure that the UK has a great enterprising future to match its celebrated past. But what sort of activism, and at what price? Here, the well-known film Tarzan's Revenge reaches the credits. But will Tarzan catch the monkey?
Some two-thirds of Heseltine's recommendations will resonate with business, as they relate to the fundamental building blocks of competitiveness itself. So far, so good. Unfortunately, his remaining prescriptions focus too much on changing governmental structures. Lord Heseltine's report contains a detailed blueprint for the reorganisation of the whole machinery of government in England, from the heart of Whitehall to the most provincial of district councils. He also seeks to re-order the private sector, commenting extensively on trade and business bodies, including Chambers of Commerce. His rationale that Whitehall needs reform and there must be a partnership between business and government is understandable, but his focus on structures could prove a useful smokescreen for those who would prefer to preserve the status quo, especially in Whitehall.
Ministers who had been kept at arm's length from Lord Heseltine's report should welcome much of his analysis, but be wary of adopting a reform agenda with elaborate institutional changes at its heart. If Britain's political elite is allowed to spend the next two years fighting over structures of government rather than businesses' underlying needs, the real growth agenda would undoubtedly suffer.
Government should, in a phrase, stick to its knitting. Promises to create a business bank that delivers a radical change to the business finance environment, and that will endure for a century or more, must be followed through. Lord Heseltine himself acknowledges that we need a new approach. Only by changing the finance system in the UK so that it supports commerce and industry can we hope to create new wealth that strengthens our role as a financial hub, and delivers the productivity gains that Heseltine rightly says we need. The best minds must be convened to get more private money into infrastructure, by reducing the risk posed by NIMBYism and short-term politicking to the projects that matter to business roads, airport capacity, energy security, broadband, rail. The list goes on. This is especially critical after the news earlier this week that only £700m of the private billions needed to upgrade the UK's flagging infrastructure has been found so far.
We must get enterprise back into education, as Lord Heseltine rightly suggests, so the youth of tomorrow have the skills that dynamic and growing companies require. Giving businesses greater say over how resources are spent in their local area would be one big step in the right direction. But for our children and grandchildren to succeed in a competitive world, businesses must have confidence in their underlying abilities and motivation, and be sure of the rigour of any qualifications.
There's no doubt that we need to make an even bigger commitment to boosting exports, by acknowledging that an economy will not rebalance when we only spend a paltry quarter of one per cent of our national wealth promoting Britain's business and investment interests across a rapidly changing world.
And, of course, even as ministers tackle these crucial issues, they need to continue to take tough choices to improve public finances, even when it means re-prioritising limited money from well-liked and voter-friendly policies to the harsh requirements of growth.
These are the big-ticket solutions to UK competitiveness, and given that we are in a global economic race, ministers should not and must not be apologetic for acting in the long-term interests of the country as a whole. We must be thankful Heseltine is a politician who recognises we have a national interest.
When Government does have money for business support, this should take the form of growth and export vouchers that allow the companies themselves to take decisions on how resources can support investment, market entry, training and job creation. I know Chambers of Commerce would be ready to help local companies connect to the support they need to grow, whether that comes from public or private sources.
Creating a truly enterprise-friendly, pro-growth environment does require Heseltine-style drive, clarity of focus, and commitment. We should be trying to drive forward long-established companies, and new and fast-growing businesses.
So, can Tarzan catch the monkey? The answer is yes, but it's not changing governmental structures that will make it happen, it's getting the basics right. The forces of inertia and the status quo must not be allowed to win the day.
John Longworth is the Director General of the British Chambers of Commerce