** A glimmering Qinetiq balloon like this is being prepared for an altitude record attempt - just one of the company's cutting edge endeavours. Now the public/private firm is looking for a major stakeholder.

PLANS to float Qinetiq on the Stock Exchange have been shelved by the Government.

Instead the Ministry of Defence has decided to sell a large stake in the defence research company to a single investor by the end of this year. It will be one stage in transferring the business into the private sector.

In Farnborough the move is being seen as good news.

A spokesman said it would provide stability and give Qinetiq the confidence to continue its strategic vision as a leading science and technology organisation which invents, tests and "provides world class solutions."

Most of the firm's work is done for the MoD, but in future the plan is to develop more commercial work in fields including health care, transport, communications and security.

The Government is to retain a "golden share" in Qinetiq, but the single investor will buy a large stake and will probably then work with the existing management towards an eventual stock market flotation for the firm, which has a turnover of £800 million.

Foreign investors have not been ruled out, but because of the sensitive nature of much of the research, no company which poses a threat to national security will be allowed to bid.

Announcing the move in Parliament last week Defence Minister Dr Lewis Moonie said that a Stock Market floatation was the preferred option, but that a flotation under current market conditions would not realise the best value for the taxpayer and a delay would be damaging.

He said the move would lead to greater freedom and access to capital, allowing the company to exploit its technologies and diversify the wealth of knowledge it has built up over the years to the benefit of the wider UK economy.