CAMBRIDGESHIRE police, which only a few years ago was regarded as under-performing among England's 40-odd forces, is now one of the most-improved in the country. The force has achieved five 'good' markings and one 'fair' in seven key performance areas based on scrutiny by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC). But the force is stung by a rating of "poor" for local priorities, when community policing is one of its most fiercely pursued objectives. Kate Flannery, HMIC's chief inspector for the Eastern region, said: "Cambridgeshire is certainly one of the most improved forces I have inspected. The constabulary has clear direction and is making the most of what it has. I'm particularly pleased the constabulary has achieved good grades in tackling crime and protecting vulnerable people." The use of resources pat-on-the-back will be particularly important to Cambridgeshire, which is pressing Home Secretary Jacqui Smith to recognise that the population is growing so rapidly and that it needs \u00A32million extra every year for the next eight years to maintain the improvement in its performance. At present, Cambridgeshire has fewer police officers per head of population than virtually any other force in England - and Council Tax-payers here contribute a greater percentage of the cost of policing than most areas. Four years ago, the county force was close to being the worst-performing in England. Although sources say local policing and public confidence are more important than league tables, Cambridgeshire has climbed above half-way to the top. The arrival of Julie Spence as deputy to Tom Lloyd three years ago and her subsequent appointment as Chief Constable is regarded by insiders as key to the improvement. The other curious aspect to the report is drug use, where the Cambridgeshire force is perceived by the public, the report says, as being poor - in spite of being second only to the Metropolitan police in tackling the issue. "This is disappointing," said assistant chief constable, Mark Hopkins, "particularly as we appear to have been the victims of our own success. "We can only conclude that we have conducted so many high-profile and successful anti-drugs operations that the impression given is one of drug-taking being rife." More than 3,000 drugs offences have been logged and dealt with by the force in an intensive 'Door-a-day' campaign in about 18 months. "Clearly, we now need to concentrate more on the public reassurance aspect of these operations," said Mr Hopkins.