Cambridgeshire and Humberside police forces, which face heavy criticism over the investigation of the Soham murders, were named among the country's poorest-performing yesterday.
Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary also gave its lowest ratings to the Cleveland, Nottinghamshire and West Yorkshire forces. Sir Keith Povey, the Chief Inspector, said: "In comparison with their peers, they still have a long way to go."
The highest accolades were given to Kent, Lancashire, Northumbria, Staffordshire and Suffolk. Merseyside and West Midlands, two of the busiest urban forces, were also commended.
Inspectors gave each English or Welsh force a rating of excellent, good, fair or poor against 16 criteria, including the handling of "volume crime" such as burglary, traffic policing and reassuring the public.
Humberside and Cleveland had the highest number of poor ratings, with six each. Cambridgeshire was ranked poor in four categories, Nottinghamshire in three and West Yorkshire in two.
Humberside and Cambridgeshire forces are expecting scathing criticism in Sir Michael Bichard's inquiry into how Ian Huntley evaded checks to land a school caretaker's job. His report will be handed to the Home Office within days. Humberside admitted deleting Huntley's records, including allegations of sex crimes in the past, while Cambridgeshire appears to have given him the all-clear to work in the school without checking on him under his real name.
Tom Lloyd, the Cambridgeshire Chief Constable, said the assessment was "a snapshot in time and doesn't fully reflect the turnaround in performance that we have seen in Cambridgeshire in the last 12 months".
Sir Keith said there was no force whose overall performance was so poor that the Home Secretary could use his new powers to replace Chief Constables with Home Office troubleshooters. But, he added: "If there was no improvement or a massive deterioration over a period of months, that might attract some sort of response."
Handling of emergency calls was identified as one of the major weaknesses across the country, along with forces' ability to tackle cross-border and region-wide crime such as drug-trafficking.