Framework agreements are becoming increasingly popular as purchasing organisations seek to mitigate an uncertain future and drive down costs.
They can cut down on assessment work and are useful for those who know they will need services in future but do not yet want to fix a cost schedule.
The London Borough of Richmond swapped from a one-contractor agreement to a framework six months ago.
Head of parks and open spaces David Allister said: "We now have 10 specialist contractors. Using a framework not only opens up the process to smaller firms but improves standards, makes it more competitive and drives down costs. We are looking to make 10-15 per cent savings, up to £400,000 over the length of the framework."
He added: "People are watching how it works. I think it will give people hope that there are different ways of doing things. It's about adapting to difficult times. It will never be the ultimate solution because things change, but for now it suits us very well,"
Another trend is framework agreements made by one council on behalf of a group. Recent examples include Knowsley Council appointing four companies to an arboriculture framework agreement for it and six other local authorities.
Braintree District Council is running a play equipment framework on behalf of councils across the UK, thus cutting down on officer time spent on tendering.
However, Norris & Gardiner managing director and former BALI chairman Richard Gardiner warned that contractors appointed to framework agreements often find themselves tendering for each small job over the life of the agreement.
"I've heard companies having to tender for £5,000 jobs. The ones that are really bad news for contractors are when you are successful as a number of contractors and all that does is open the door to more competitive pricing."
Gardiner said such agreements can make business planning difficult, but added: "If you develop a good relationship it can be better. Nothing's ever guaranteed and if the relationship's not good in a term contract it won't work for you anyway."
The Environment Agency is looking for up to four partners to take part in a four-year framework agreement to provide agricultural, forestry, horticultural, aquacultural and apicultural services at an estimated spending range of £400,000-£800,000. Bidders must register interest online via www.sell2ea.co.uk by 22 October.