The Government is to begin sounding out City investors about their appetite to buy shares in Royal Mail ahead of a potential flotation of the postal service.
I have learned that ministers and the Shareholder Executive, the body which manages state-owned assets, have sanctioned a preliminary roadshow of major City institutions to begin in the new year.
The Government will wait until Royal Mail's Christmas trading performance is clear before commencing discussions with prospective investors.
On Tuesday, Royal Mail will unveil half-year results which are expected to show continued progress in restructuring the core UK letters division, which has seen tens of thousands of jobs axed in an attempt to secure the company's survival.
A decline in letter volumes accelerated by the explosion of the internet has only been partially offset by the growth in Royal Mail's parcels business.
Moya Greene, the Canadian chief executive of Royal Mail, is likely to confirm the plans for initial talks with City investors alongside the results.
A privatisation of Royal Mail would be arguably the most significant privatisation of a UK asset since John Major sold the railways during the 1990s.
Analysts say that a restructured Royal Mail could be worth as much as £4bn, although that figure is likely to be at the upper end of the range that a flotation could attract.
Ms Greene is also likely to reaffirm a ministerial commitment to make shares available to Royal Mail employees as well as the public.
A flotation is viewed in Whitehall as a more attractive option than an outright sale of the company because of the shortage of trade buyers and the political difficulties of negotiating a takeover by a financial investor such as a private equity firm.
Michael Fallon, the business minister, is taking a hands-on role in discussions about the potential sell-off.
Barclays is advising the board of Royal Mail, which is chaired by Donald Brydon, a leading City figure, with UBS advising the Government.
Royal Mail's finances have been knocked into shape by hiving off the company's historic pension deficit onto the taxpayer. The regulatory regime dictating stamp prices and other areas of its operations have also been loosened by Ofcom.
Royal Mail declined to comment.