IT may be the start of Spring but George Osborne's fourth Budget confirmed that Britain is still languishing in the bleak mid-winter.

The numbers in the Treasury Red Book continue to be terrible.

Having had no growth last year, it is looking pretty certain we will have no growth this year either.

The Office for Budget Responsibility, which has an ignoble history of getting predictions wrong, has cut growth this year to a sickly 0.6%.

If the eurozone continues to stagger from crisis to crisis, even this prediction could be wiped out.

The independent forecaster's public sector borrowing forecasts have been revised upwards for every year to 2017/18, adding a total of £55.7bn to what the Chancellor is expecting to borrow over the next five years compared to his plans at the time of the Autumn Statement in December.

The UK debt will not fall as a share of national income until two years after Mr Osborne's original 2015 target, and will peak at 85.6% of GDP in 2016/17, an increase of 6.4% on the previous forecast, hitting an eye-watering total of £1.58 trillion.

While the OBR said, on its analysis, Britain would avoid a triple-dip recession this year, it is only just; the margin of error could, of course, mean the forecaster is wrong again.

Budgets are always an exercise in smoke and mirrors so while the Treasury insisted net borrowing had narrowly fallen from £121bn in 2011/12 to £120.9bn in 2012/13 – due, Labour insisted, to those convenient Whitehall underspends – when one looked closely, all was not quite as it seemed.

If you get rid of all those helpful transfers into the Exchequer from things such as the Special Liquidity Scheme, then, lo and behold, the number is not £120.9bn but £123.2bn.

In other words, borrowing went up.

However, the general position is the Chancellor's bid to get the deficit down – now we're told by one-third since the election – has stalled as it will be around £120bn until 2014.

On the politics side, we did not have the "omnishambles" of last year – no granny tax or pasty tax – and the Coalition deliberately played down expectations, suggesting this Budget was going to be boring and uneventful given the mid-term.

So it was a surprise that Mr Osborne's set-piece statement was busier than we had expected given that he appeared to be stuck in a straitjacket with little room for manoeuvre.

The Help to Buy scheme to aid people not able to rely on the Bank of Mum and Dad get on the housing ladder was a surprise, particularly in its scale of £130bn.

George The Builder's initiative kicks in, happily, in 2014, just before the General Election.

Electorally, the Tories will be hoping this proves as popular as Margaret Thatcher's Right to Buy scheme a generation ago.

Labour welcomed anything that helped young, and not so young, people get on the housing ladder but there is a fear that if a spurt of interest in house-buying is caused and there are not enough houses to go around, then we could have another housing bubble on our hands.

The second part of the scheme entails the UK Government providing interest-free loans for homebuyers up to 20% of the value of new-build properties.

This, it is hoped, will help the house-building industry as well as first-timers.

However, this scheme is devolved but with strings attached.

The SNP Government has to use its £266m to provide loans and John Swinney, the Finance Secretary, was none too pleased that he could not use it to boost public investment elsewhere.

Plus, as they are loans, the money will eventually find its way back to the Treasury.

It was also interesting to see how, as public sector workers went on strike over pay and pensions, Mr Osborne slowly gave them the political finger by extending their 1% pay freeze for another year.

And while the Chancellor hailed the simplified single rate pension, Labour picked up on how it would whack public sector employees and employers who will have to pay extra National Insurance contributions from 2016 to the collective tune of £4.6bn.

No wonder Ed Balls, the Shadow Chancellor, described this as a "ticking timebomb".

Despite all the constraints, Mr Osborne sought to bring some cheer on fuel and drink, brought forward the £10,000 tax-free personal allowance target by a year to 2014, unveiled the new employment allowance to cut National Insurance bills by £2000 for every firm, and announced a further cut in Corporation Tax to 20p by 2015, the same level, incidentally, as Alex Salmond wants to introduce in an independent Scotland.

Yet for all the Chancellor's populist measures, they could still not hide the very large economic elephant sitting, seemingly immovable, behind him.

As the numbers continue to be downgraded, those sunlit uplands still seem a long, long way off.