A HANDFUL of under- performing councils risk falling behind amid generally improving standards, a Government watchdog said today.
The Audit Commission said that although most councils were rising to the challenge of providing better services, others needed to pull out all the stops.
The warning came as the commission published results from its latest Comprehensive Performance Assessment.
This gives councils star ratings.
Overall, 79% achieved the top scores of three or four stars in 2006, a 9% improvement on the previous year.
For the first time since the ratings were introduced in 2002 none of the 149 English councils received zero stars. North East Lincolnshire, the only council with that dubious accolade in 2005, was awarded two stars.
But seven councils moved down a category year on year, while five achieved just one star.
The report warns: "Better-performing councils continue to improve to a greater degree than those in lower categories.
"Lower-performing councils will need to accelerate the pace of improvement to prevent the gap widening further over time."
Commission chairman Michael O'Higgins said most councils were in a strong position, but added: "Implicit in this news is a clear challenge to the small number of councils at the lower end of the scale that they really must pull out all the stops to emulate the achievements of their peers."