A report likely to recommend hefty pay cuts for ministers and top civil servants will be presented to minister for finance Brian Lenihan within days.

The details of the report of the Review Body on Higher Remuneration in the Public Sector are a tightly guarded secret, but government insiders are expecting it to recommend significant reductions in pay.

The report is also certain to be used by the government as part of a softening-up process ahead of probable further pay cuts across the entire public sector.

Because public-sector salaries are closely interlinked, Lenihan believes these large salaries at the very top have inflated the overall public-sector pay bill.

The review body's deliberations are based on a benchmarking study conducted by international pay consultants Hay.

In an unprecedented development, Lenihan ordered the review body to assess and compare the pay rates of senior politicians and public servants with their peers in a number of EU countries of comparable size.

The details of Hay's findings have yet to be revealed but a recent study, conducted by the same consultancy company, found pay in Ireland in these categories was up to 40% higher than peers in other countries.

For example, Taoiseach Brian Cowen's salary of €231,700 – even allowing for recent reductions – was almost €40,000 ahead of that of the Belgian prime minister and almost twice the €123,300 paid to the head of the Dutch government. Irish ministers also do considerably better than their EU counterparts.

The most glaring gap in pay, however, was between the most senior Irish civil servants and their peer group across Europe.

At a maximum of €216,900, heads of government departments in Ireland are paid €75,000 more than comparable civil servants in the Netherlands and almost €23,000 more than those in Belgium.

While these comparisons are from a slightly earlier study by Hay, its most recent study, on behalf of the Review Body on Higher Remuneration in the Public Sector, is unlikely to be radically different.

The review body's report will be the first step in the government's move to cut the near €20bn public-sector pay bill. With cutbacks of €3-4bn required in the upcoming budgetary process, ministers privately believe that further across-the-board cuts in public sector pay are inevitable.