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Royal Mail Lines Up Privatisation Advisers

(c) Sky News 2012

Royal Mail risks igniting a row over the multi-million-pound costs of privatising the company after appointing a line-up of heavyweight City advisers to prepare the landmark deal.

I have learned that Royal Mail's management, led by Moya Greene, chief executive, has drafted in Makinson Cowell, the respected investor relations advisory firm, and STJ Advisers, a specialist in equity markets transactions, to counsel them on the process, which will begin in earnest in the new year.

Next (Berlin: NXG.BE - news) week, a cluster of the City's largest investment banks will pitch for the mandate to advise the company on the process to inject private capital. That appointment could put at risk Barclays (LSE: BARC.L - news) ' relationship with Royal Mail, which has been running for more than two years.

The recruitment of specialist capital markets advisers offers the clearest signal so far that the Government will opt to pursue a stock market listing of the company, ending centuries of Government ownership.

The Government's intent to privatise Royal Mail has gained fresh momentum since the appointment of Michael Fallon as a minister in Vince Cable's Department of Business, Innovation and Skills in the autumn Government reshuffle.

A sale to another postal operator or a financial investor such as a private equity firm remains a possibility.

Previous attempts to privatise Royal Mail - most notably led by Lord Mandelson, the former Business Secretary, three years ago - ended in failure amid political opposition and uncertainty about the company's viability without far-reaching regulatory reform.

Much of that reform has now been sanctioned, paving the way for Royal Mail to post operating profits of £144m for the six months to September.

"Today’s results from Royal Mail are encouraging, showing how Royal Mail staff and management together with the Government’s reforms, have put the company on the road to sustainable health and long term viability," Mr Fallon said of the company's half-year results earlier this month.

"Parliament decided, via the Postal Services Act 2011, to inject private capital into the company in order to secure the future of the universal postal service. The structure and timing remain open, but Government is committed to doing that to ensure the ongoing viability of the company."

Royal Mail declined to comment.