Bedfordshire has the poorest-performing police force in England and Wales, according to a league table compiled from Home Office figures.
The force was rated as poor in three out of seven indicators of police performance and came bottom in an unofficial ranking. No other force received more than one poor rating.
The assessments showed that three-quarters of the 43 forces in England and Wales were rated good or excellent for tackling crime and more forces scored excellent or good ratings than last year, while no forces were deemed to be in need of special measures.
They also revealed that the amount of time officers spend on frontline policing increased by just 0.6 per cent. The national average was 64.2 per cent, despite ministers' efforts to get more officers on the beat.
Tony McNulty, the Police minister, warned against drawing up league tables based on the assessments. "We are now entering a more flat-line period in terms of resources after seven or eight years of growth," he said. Asked about inefficiency, he added: "The notion that this is still an inefficient public service is wrong. The notion that this is the last bastion of 1960s public service, again, could not be further from the truth."
Sir Ronnie Flanagan, the Chief Inspector of Constabulary, acknowledged: "There have been areas of concern ... They are recognised and accepted by the force. I have no difficulty in predicting rapid improvement in Bedfordshire."
A spokesperson for Bedfordshire described the report as "disappointing" but insisted it had already put in place a number of measures to improve its work. Chief Constable Gillian Parker said: "I am puzzled by some of the 'headline' results that in no way reflect our hard work. However, we are not dwelling on it and are concentrating on a continual programme of improvements."
David Davis, the shadow Home Secretary, claimed the police were caught up in "paperwork". "The definition of 'frontline' policing is not one the public would recognise ... In reality a police officer spends less than a fifth of his or her time on the beat," he said.
The unofficial league table of police performance was compiled by the Press Association from the Home Office data. Among the best named in the review are Lancashire, Surrey, Cumbria and Northumbria.
However, the president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, Ken Jones, said the ratings were "shallow" and "open to misrepresentation", adding that a blanket approach to different forces with different local issues was "a bit barmy".
Forces were marked on seven categories ("excellent" = 3 pts; " good" = 2 pts; "fair" = 1 pt), with a maximum total score of 21 pts.
1 pt: Bedfordshire
7 pts: Greater Manchester, Humberside, Lincolnshire, Northam- ptonshire, Thames Valley
8 pts: Derbyshire, Gwent, South Wales, Wiltshire
9 pts: Devon & Cornwall
10 pts: Avon and Somerset, Cambridgeshire, Cheshire, Cleveland, Durham, Nottinghamshire, Warwickshire
12 pts: City of London, Dorset, Merseyside, North Wales, Sussex
18 pts: Lancashire, SurreyReuse content