Four West Midlands councils are named as among the 55 best performing local authorities in the country.

Shropshire, Dudley, Telford & Wrekin and Worcestershire were awarded top marks in the Audit Commission's 2007 analysis of service delivery.

Comprehensive Performance Assessment rankings give each of the councils four stars, the highest grade available, depicting strong performance and service delivery well above minimum requirements.

The CPA looked at a range of performance indicators including the provision of housing, social care, services for children and young people, payment of benefits, transportation, recy-cling, planning and culture.

Inspectors carrying out the CPA process also decide whether councils are delivering value for the taxpayer.

Councils are awarded a direction of travel ranking, from improving strongly down to not improving adequately.

Shropshire, Telford & Wrekin and Worcestershire were already four-star authorities in 2006 and managed to retain their ranking. Dudley Council, however, was promoted from three-star last year.

Birmingham City Council, classified by the Audit Commission as weak only three years ago, climbed from two-star to three-star, while Stoke-on-Trent, the worst council in the country last year, went straight from one-star to three stars.

Herefordshire became the only West Midlands council to drop a star, from three to two.

Although the West Midlands has four four-star councils, other regions are performing at a higher level.

The North East has 10 four-star councils, the North West 11 and London 10.

For the second year running, the Audit Commission judged no councils as zero-star and the number of councils in the one-star category has fallen from five to two. Nationally, most councils are improving their services, with three-quarters rated as improving well or strongly.

The Audit Commission said there were a number of common characteristics shared by councils that had improved their performance from a relatively low base.

These included strong leadership from elected members, a senior management team with the skills and the will to take tough decisions and strong financial management.

The best councils were also likely to display a willingness to learn from other local authorities and to work in partnership with other stakeholders.

Audit Commission chairman Michael O'Higgins said: "This is good news for most councils and taxpayers in England, with the majority of councils performing better than ever.

The 2007 results show that councils continue to rise to the challenge of delivering better services for local people at better value for money.

"Today's results show that most English councils are in a strong position to take on the more demanding role now expected of them. Where there are challenges we know the characteristics they need to copy from the highest performers: strong leadership, a skilled management team willing to take tough decisions and an ongoing focus on poorly performing services.

"The great improvements that councils such as Stoke-on-Trent have made are especially noteworthy. They provide a great example to those councils that seem stuck on two stars."

Thirteen councils remain stuck in the two-star CPA category for the third year in a row, including Staffordshire, which has been stuck on two stars since 2005.

Liverpool, the European City of Culture for 2008, received the dubious distinction of being rated the country's worst-performing council, falling from two stars to one.