CHIEF Constable Della Cannings today responded to a critical report on North Yorkshire Police by claiming the force had made "tremendous progress" in recent months.

The Chief Inspector of Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary, Sir Keith Povey, said the force was "teetering on the edge" of being ranked among the poorest in England and Wales.

Scoring forces for the first time in 16 categories, giving ratings from excellent to poor, inspectors rated North Yorkshire as "poor" in the key category of fighting "volume" crimes, such as theft and robbery, as well as for performance management.

The force managed five good ratings - including leadership and direction, forensic management and the way it deals with critical incidents - with the remaining nine scoring fair.

The five poorest-performing forces included Humberside, which serves the Pocklington and Stamford Bridge area, and West Yorkshire, whose territory includes Wetherby.

A Humberside Police spokesman said today the force had taken "phenomenal" steps forward since the inspection was carried out, including a 14 per cent reduction in burglaries and a 15 per cent decrease in robberies.

He said Humberside recognised there was much hard work to do, but it was asking the inspectorate to return to the force early to see the progress being made.

The inspectorate said North Yorkshire had received a 76 per cent precept increase, the highest precept rise nationally, and Ms Cannings was now under pressure to get results.

"There are high expectations on the chief constable to ensure significant improvements in performance are delivered against this increase."

Ms Cannings said today that North Yorkshire was already concentrating on the areas graded as fair or poor, but stressed that the inspector's assessment was conducted early last autumn, before the full benefits of initiatives such as Operation Delivery had been achieved.

"To summarise - overall crime down five per cent, arrests up 26 per cent, domestic burglary down 36 per cent, non-domestic burglary down 25 per cent, vehicle crime down 43 per cent and robbery down 25 per cent."

She said the force's officers and vehicles were much more visible, police station opening hours had been extended and call-handling by control centres had been radically improved.

She said she was looking forward to the next assessments later this year, when the improvements would be formally recorded.

From 2005, every force will be given an overall ranking, but HMIC insists it will not be a "league table".

West Yorkshire's Chief Constable, Colin Cramphorn, said the report was out-of-date, providing only a "rear-view mirror" look at performance across the force, and did not reflect recent improvements made in the key policing areas of burglary, car crime and robbery.

Updated: 10:45 Monday, June 14, 2004